Briarwood quarterback Josh Thompson looks concerned as Saraland’s Jermaine Paramore (88) and Chris Thompson (24) close in on him Friday night in Birmingham. Paramore hit Thompson and caused a fumble on the play which Thompson recovered to set up a Spartans touchdown in the first quarter. (Will McLelland/Call News)
There are many ways to foretell that Saraland is heading toward another state championship and possibly a revered place in the pantheon of the greatest high school football teams in Alabama history.
The Spartans’ Myron Dunklin has punted only eight times all season. He made an appearance late in the 51-14 playoff win over Briarwood Friday night, although it was more of a courtesy and rather like checking on a fire extinguisher every few months to make sure it still works.
Then there is the offense. Saraland has scored 465 points in the first half, which is roughly as much as the other remaining teams in the Class 6A field have scored all year.
The Spartans need only to average 45.4 points in the last three games — well within doing — to break Hueytown’s state record of 784 points in a season. They’ve already set a new school record of 649 points this season, breaking the 645 scored on the way to the Blue Map last year. Since the opener against Lipscomb, the starters have scored touchdowns on 78 of 90 possessions.
“We feel like we should score every time,” center Bryceson Chastang said.
All this and K.J. Lacey, Ryan Williams and Santae McWilliams don’t have quite the numbers they had last year, only because they have much fewer snaps due to all the massacres they have not been obliged to take part in for a full 48 minutes.
Speaking of minutes, there are 525,600 of them in a year, which is how long Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa coach Jamie Mitchell, one of the best in the business, said last December it would take to devise a plan for Saraland’s offense. He’ll get his chance to find out in Friday’s quarterfinals when he brings Class 6A’s best defense against the score to Spartan Stadium. Unfortunately for Mitchell, this isn’t a leap year, otherwise he’d have had an extra day to get ready. His Patriots are allowing one touchdown per game; the Spartans are literally scoring a touchdown every 6½ minutes.
How about the defense? Oh, yes, Saraland has one of those and it’s fast, well-schooled, ill-tempered and as hard to get around as a logging truck on U.S. Highway 45.
Nine of the 13 players in the defensive rotation run faster than 20 mph (for perspective, Williams has touched 23 mph).
“You do that in a school zone, you’d get a speeding ticket,” Saraland strength and conditioning coach Jon Hersel said.
The defense has also nearly outscored the opposition with 10 touchdowns of its own. Wrap your mind around this: the starting defense has allowed only 66 points and scored 60 itself.
Every No. 1 seed in Class 6A is still alive, not that it matters, nor does it matter what other teams do. It’s all about what the Spartans do. They’re good enough to create their own weather and dance between the raindrops; the lightning strikes everybody else.
“It doesn’t matter how other teams play,” defensive tackle Antonio Coleman said. “The only team that can beat us is us.”
That’s not arrogance because these players take nothing for granted.
“We go by what coach (Jeff) Kelly says,” Coleman said. “Each week, just look at what is in front of you.”
Saraland will lose again at some point — although maybe not even until the next millennium, or so it seems — but not as long as its superior talent plays at an exalted level with few mistakes.
As with a nearly flawless diamond, you’d need a jeweler’s loop to see most of the errors. The Spartans aren’t perfect but all 88 keys on a grand piano still play beautifully with one scratch on the lid and an aircraft carrier isn’t bothered by a small leak. There’s an occasional turnover, some holding penalties and even allowing a halfback pass for a long gain to help Briarwood take a 7-0 lead, a momentary irritation that lasted 26 seconds before Saraland unleashed a barrage of big plays to turn the Lions into pulp.
“They shouldn’t have even scored,” Coleman said.
The Spartans don’t have to be perfect. The defensive players are fast enough to recover even when they are out of position. On the halfback pass, defensive back Delvon Gulley, who was caught looking in the backfield, recovered to run down receiver Caleb Keller and stop him at the 1-yard line.
Lacey can find second, third or fourth options with precision and Williams, McWilliams, C.D. Gill and Dillon Alfred can break big plays even if the blocking breaks down. On a punt return and an end-around against Briarwood, Williams made 13 defenders look like their feet were nailed to the ground as he ran past them for touchdowns.
Saraland is the best team in the state regardless of class and that includes Thompson, which lost to Clay-Chalkville, which could play the Spartans in the state championship game most fans want to see. If that happens, a record crowd for a Super 7 game might show up at Bryant-Denny Stadium to see future five-star Alabama teammates Williams and Jaylen Mbakwe try to bury each other under Nick Saban’s hallowed turf.
Briarwood coach Matthew Forester, whose Lions have played both teams, was diplomatic when asked which is better.
“I’ve got my money on somebody but I’m not saying,” he chuckled.
I’ll say it. I don’t think anybody in this state can beat Saraland. Well, Alabama and Auburn. OK, Alabama.
Some state champions are long forgotten, as are other great teams. The Spartans want to be remembered along with Vigor 1988 — the greatest team of all time in Alabama and the only national champion in state history.
People are asking if the Spartans are better than the Wolves. I have covered both teams closely and my short answer is no, not yet, but if we could truly compare apples to apples, or Blue Maps to Blue Maps, what would happen?
Saraland’s offense is much better than Vigor’s was but only because of the system each played in. If the Wolves had run the same wide-open spread offense the Spartans run instead of the I formation, they would have averaged well more than 50 points per game.
I’ve never seen a defense as terrifying as Vigor’s in 1988 — Pat Dye said it was the best high school defense he ever saw. But Saraland must defend those wide-open offenses. If it had to defend in the run-oriented 1980s, it might be as good as the Wolves, who surrendered only 44 points in 1988, including only seven in the playoffs. No state champion since then has done that.
And there are still some things the Spartans haven’t done. They haven’t found the cure for the common cold or how to make spinach taste good. Of course, they haven’t been asked to either. The season’s not over. Given the fact their games are usually decided by the end of the first quarter, they might have time to squeeze that in.