By: Jason Digos Jr.
American Leadership Academy came in to the 2016 season as a relative unknown to most of Arizona High School Football. But after tonight, the now 11 and 1 Patriots are back in to the state semifinals for the second consecutive year, this time in the 3A division after knocking out 3A Central Region rival Florence 38-21.
Florence and ALA met back on September 30th, and the Patriots had to mount a late 4th quarter rally to erase an eight-point deficit and topped the Gophers by a score of 29-22. The events from that night five weeks ago carried over and both teams came out emotionally charged up for tonight’s game.
In the first half the Gophers and Patriots traded score for score. Florence struck first as junior quarterback Jared Wood hit Ramazees Severe from 21 yards. ALA would counter back with an 8-yard quarterback sweep from senior signal caller Dallin Edwards.
After Edwards scored his first TD to tie the game at 7, emotions began to boil over between both sides. Florence would be flagged for a late hit on Edwards after the score, and later on in the game Edwards had to be helped off of the field on two separate occasions after late hits by Florence defenders.
The Wood to Ramazees connection was crystal clear in the first half. The two would hook up for an 89-yard strike before being counter back by ALA’s Jermiah Boyd’s 17-yard score in the second.
Patriots would seize the momentum before the halftime break as Edwards found his big TE/WR Donovan Hanna for a 45-yard touchdown and ALA went in to the break with a 21-14 lead.
In the third frame, Florence would find their offensive rhythm again, marched down the field and leading rusher, junior running back Nolan Susel scored from 34 yards out midway through the quarter.
ALA’s leading rusher Jermiah Boyd was knocked out with what looked to be a concussion towards the end of the second quarter, and Head Coach Rich Edwards and Offensive Coordinator Max Hall leaned on their quarterback to make the plays with both his arm and legs, and the head coach’s son took over the game in the second half.
Early in the 4th, Dallin Edwards threw a quick screen to WR Bujon Boyd, and he was led downfield by great blocking and scored untouched from 44-yards. Later on as Edwards began to assert himself offensively against the Florence defense, the unnecessary shots came. First after the ALA defense intercepted a tipped pass in their red zone, Edwards was hit late on back-to-back plays, on the second time, while avoiding pressure by running out of bounds near the Gophers sideline.
After ALA took a 10 point lead, the Patriots defense recovered a fumble on a botched Gopher handoff, and on the next play Edwards was back behind center and broke a long 30 yard QB sweep, was ripped down by his facemask on the ALA sideline and near insanity ensued between both teams. Coaches and players were quickly on the scene to plead their cases and some fans from both sides had to be removed by administrators. Edwards did not return to the game after the facemask incident. His father said after the game he was more concerned about a potential knee injury that occurred on the play.
After the incident, as members of the Florence contingent were asked to step off the sidelines and in to the visitors stands, ALA sealed the game with a Tarek Workman 2-yard run and after the clock hit 0:00, both teams went on to offer congratulations and shake hands without further incident. In total there were 8 personal foul/unnecessary roughness penalties called against Florence, 0 that led to any player ejections.
“Crazy atmosphere, two emotional 10-1 teams that battled to stay alive.” Is what ALA Head Coach Rich Edwards described the game. He also credited Offensive Coordinator Max Hall for adjusting the offense without Jermiah Boyd in the second half, and then backup running back Tarek Workman for his efforts in the 4th quarter to clinch the game for the Patriots.
Next week, ALA advances to the 3A semifinals against #7 Northwest Christian at nearby Gilbert Williams Field HS at 2:00 PM on Saturday 11/19. The Crusaders and Patriots met back on September 16th and ALA withstood a late 4th quarter rally by their visitors to win 24-21. Injuries will be key for ALA this time around. They could potentially be without their starting quarterback (D. Edwards) and running back (J. Boyd) in the semi finals.