Saraland quarterback K.J. Lacey throws on the run during the Class 6A semifinals against Pike Road Friday night in Saraland. Lacey was 23-of-28 passing for 345 yards and four touchdowns in the 46-7 win. (Todd Stacey/Call News)
Saraland’s Ryan Williams grabs a 59-yard pass from K.J. Lacey on the first play against Pike Road Friday night in Saraland. The catch set up the Spartans’ first touchdown of a 46-7 win in the Class 6A semifinals. (Todd Stacey/Call News)
Saraland’s Santae McWilliams bursts up the middle against Pike Road Friday night. McWilliams ran for 113 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown. (Todd Stacey/Call News)
Saraland’s Cam Laffitte (10), Isaih Bowie (22) and Jermaine Paramore (88) swarm Pike Road quarterback Cason Myers for a loss Friday night. The Spartans sacked Myers five times. (Todd Stacey/Call News)
By JIMMY WIGFIELD
SARALAND — Pike Road’s schedule for the pregame warmup Friday night, displayed on a greaseboard on the Patriots’ sideline, made it sound easy.
It concluded with this: “7:00, dominate Spartans.”
At 7:01, those plans ended when Saraland’s Ryan Williams made an acrobatic catch on a 59-yard pass from K.J. Lacey, who was just warming up himself.
Lacey went on to complete 23 of 28 passes for 345 yards and four touchdowns and the No. 1-ranked Spartans never punted in a 46-7 rout of Pike Road to earn the chance to defend their Class 6A state championship.
Lacey’s bomb to Williams on a go route showed the Patriots (11-3) — who saw their 11-game winning streak end — that it’s easier to talk about beating Saraland than actually doing it.
“When we came out, we wanted to send a message that we were going to kill an ant with a sledgehammer,” Williams said. Santae McWilliams scored two plays later, the first act in a first half that saw the Spartans take a 29-0 lead in a mere 6:52 of possession time.
Two Saraland turnovers in the first quarter kept it from being worse.
“It could have been much uglier,” said Lacey, who has thrown for 3,079 yards and 40 touchdowns this season. “We came in with the mindset that we want to put up 50. We were moving the ball every time we had it. I had a lot of easy ones and I was just hitting the receivers in the open spaces.”
The Texas commitment did most of his damage in the first half, when he completed 15 of 17 passes for 273 yards. He threw TD slants of 35 yards to Dillon Alfred and 12 yards to Jordan Dees, popped Dees for a 13-yarder and a hurled a towering 14-yard moonball of a fade to Williams.
The overwhelming victory — the Spartans (14-0) outgained the Patriots 573 yards to 159 — put the defending state champions in the Super 7 against No. 2 Clay-Chalkville (13-0) Friday at 7 p.m. at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Saraland will be trying for its first 15-0 finish, a second Blue Map and maybe even a space in the state record book — the Spartans need 59 points against the Cougars to set a new standard for points in a season. Saraland has scored 726; Hueytown set the record of 784 in 2021.
While the outcome before a raucous crowd at Spartan Stadium was not in doubt, Williams created some suspense with a tweet before kickoff that he would announce his future plans a few days after the state championship game against the Cougars.
“Start the countdown,” Williams tweeted.
Williams — a five-star prospect, the first sophomore to be named Mr. Football and who is considered the nation’s top wide receiver prospect in the class of 2025 — is committed to Alabama and there is speculation he will either talk about flipping his commitment or perhaps reclassifying and going to college a year early.
“A lot of people think they know what it’s going to be,” said Williams, who teased to the announcement shortly after five-star wide receiver Cam Coleman of Central-Phenix City changed his commitment from Texas A&M to Auburn.
While there is some mystery surrounding Williams’ plans, there was nothing cryptic about what happened to Pike Road Friday night.
“They’ve got players everywhere,” Patriots coach Granger Shook said of Saraland, which has the state’s longest winning streak at 20 games and has won 38 of its last 40 games. “Lacey’s a phenomenal player. Texas, Auburn and Alabama don’t offer just anybody. We created some turnovers and we did a good job on (Williams) but you’ve got Mr. Mississippi (Alfred) on the other side. They’ve got one of the best offensive lines in the state.”
Spartans coach Jeff Kelly said Lacey’s success started with almost faultless reads.
“K.J. was outstanding and did a great job pre-snap in understanding what they were doing coverage-wise,” Kelly said. “He was accurate and on time. We knew they would do some things schematically to take Ryan away but we had other guys make tremendous plays — Dillon, Jordan, Myron (Dunklin), C.D. (Gill).”
Lacey completed passes to six receivers. Williams had six receptions for 104 yards, Alfred five for 88, Gill four for 67 and Dees three for 40.
“The talent we have is crazy,” Alfred said. “One of us is going to be open.”
Santae McWilliams, who punished Pike Road with 113 yards on 19 carries, opened the scoring with a 3-yard run in the first quarter, Tucker Singleton kicked a 24-yard field goal and Deshawn Spencer scored on a 1-yard run late in the game with Saraland’s backups on the field.
The Spartans scored on drives of 65, 61, 60, 69, 74, 56 and 60 yards and ran for 228 yards.
“We had some hiccups early,” offensive lineman Brandon Autery said, “but we got rocking and rolling once we got into our groove.”
Saraland’s defense strangled the Patriots up front, sacking quarterback Cason Myers five times, holding Pike Road to minus 36 yards rushing through three quarters and to just 1 of 11 on third down.
Kelly felt the game pivoted when the defense stopped the Patriots on back-to-back possessions in the first quarter after a pair of Spartans turnovers — Lacey’s interception at Pike Road’s 36 and Dees’ fumble after a reception at Saraland’s 30. In response, the Spartans’ defense forced a punt and Jaxon Roberts recovered a fumble.
“The defense was outstanding all night,” Kelly said. “When we had those turnovers on the second and third possessions, if our defense hadn’t held them, it could have been a different game.”
But linebacker Jamison Curtis, who recently committed to Vanderbilt, helped make sure it wasn’t different. Saraland has now outscored its opponents 276-21 in the first quarter and 508-59 in the first half.
“Most teams that make it to the fourth round are elite but we got on them pretty good and kept our foot on their throat,” said Curtis, who observed the defense was inspired by the crowd and a message from a youth pastor the day before the game.
“We came in with a lot of energy,” he said. “The pastor talked about playing for the Lord. That’s as hyped as we’ve ever been and that came into the locker room. This team has come together. Every player complements each other. Now we want that perfect record.”
The fans who jammed the Spartans’ side of the stadium responded to Superintendent Dr. Aaron Milner’s plea the week of the game to provide a more intimidating environment and not take the Spartans’ historic season for granted. There was even a sign on a Saraland police SUV which said: “Get loud or go to jail.”
“Our crowd was electric,” Kelly said. “Our kids fed off it. It made a difference for our kids in the pregame.”
Now the Spartans will prepare for the much-anticipated showdown against Clay-Chalkville with Williams and five-star defensive back Jaylen Mbakwe going against each other in a battle of Crimson Tide commitments before what could be a record Super 7 crowd at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“That will be a crazy atmosphere up there,” Lacey said.
But Mbakwe was injured in the Cougars’ semifinal game and his status is uncertain.