Final jeopardy

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Senators face Rebels for second state championship in five years

By Griffin Pritchard

The Selma Times-Journal

Friday night’s Alabama Independent School Association Class AAA Championship game is between two schools that are as different in

coaching philosophies as they are apart in miles.

Bessemer Academy brings their big play style of offense, as well as a team filled with recruits from Jess Lanier High School and McAdory High School among others.

Morgan Academy is right the opposite. Morgan Academy runs a patience-oriented offense that has big play potential and has a group of home grown Senators that have been dreaming of walking off the field winners since fourth grade.

“We always knew that we were good enough to win state,” said Ben Callaway, senior fullback for the Senators.

“And it’s something that we’ve been looking forward to ever since fourth grade.”

Simply put: This weekend’s state championship comes down to new school vs. old school.

“It’s definitely a contrast in philosophies between the two schools,” said Robert Gartman, coach of the Senators.

“It’s almost like the game between Alabama and Notre Dame in 1973. It’s their size and speed against our patience and discipline.”

Gartman and the Senators are going to have their work cut out for them.

The Senators come into Friday’s game riding the crest of an 11-game winning streak.

Bessemer Academy, however, has the state’s longest winning streak at 25-straight victories dating back to last season.

“On paper they are a 15 point favorite,” said Gartman.

“I think playing in Troy will give us a touchdown advantage. Looking back to last year’s game. It’s a match-up of the same two teams from last year’s semi-final game.”

“Our kids are used to playing in big games,” said Mark Freeman, coach of the Bessemer Academy Rebels. “Pre-game jitters will effect both teams on Friday, but once it kicks off it will be just like any other game we’ve played this season.”

Morgan’s players, however are up to the task.

“We’ve been to the state championship as 10th graders and got some playing time,” said Andrew Slagel, senior offensive and defensive lineman for the Senators. “But it’s going to be nothing like what we are going to see Friday. There is only one way to end this season right and that’s to win the state championship. Nobody in this state gives us a fighting chance.”

The neutral site could play a factor in the game.

“The neutral site is a non-factor,” said Freeman. “It’s nice to have the game at the school, but reward-wise it’s a great reward for the kids to be able to go to such a nice facility.”

Gartman sees it differently.

“It will be like a home game for us and it will take them out of the home field advantage that they have in Bessemer, which is fairly huge,” said Gartman.

While these two teams have different philosophies about the game, one thing is the same. Winning state titles are what drive the programs to be as successful as they are.

According to Freeman, he makes his kids set goals before the start of each season and naturally one is to go and play in the state championship. Bessemer has been in the state title game four of the past five years, with this year being their fourth trip to Troy.

Last season they upended Edgewood on a sloppy field in Bessemer for their second state championship. Two years prior, the Rebels avenged a state 2001 state championship loss to the Monroe Volunteers by beating the same set of Volunteers in what was then Richard M. Scrushy Field at Memorial Stadium at Troy State University.

“We start with 13 weeks and we knock them down and we are going to do the best we can to get this one Friday,” said Freeman.

As for Morgan, the Senators have been a perrinial feature in the AISA’s postseason. After dominating the 90s, they have only made one trip to Troy in 2000, when they defeated the Faith Academy Rams 16-13 to win the state championship.

“This is one of the two or three biggest games that I’ve ever coached in,” said Gartman. “If we win, it will be the culmination of five years of rebuilding. Of putting the right pieces in the right places and doing what it takes to win a state championship.”

Before the Rebels defeated Edgewood for the crown, they dismissed the Senators from the playoffs.

“This is it for us. It’s our last game and we’ve got to end it right,” said Blake South, senior defensive back for the Senators.

All the players from last year’s squad that played as juniors are back this year for Friday’s game.

“I don’t think that memory will do anything,” said Gartman. “But I do think that come 4 p.m., the chance to win a state championship will wake them up enough to play. I think having been there, on that field and on the new turf, having played on it and have won will be a bigger advantage. I think we will have more fan support in Troy then we would have at home because literally, every eye in the AISA is going to be on this game.”

The Senators and the Rebels are set to kick at 4 p.m., at Troy University’s Movie Gallery Stadium.

“We’ve never beaten Bessemer and supposedly they are supposed to beat the crap out of us,” said Josh McAteer, senior tailback for the Senators. “So we are just going to go out there and leave it all on the field.”

The Class AAA game is sandwiched in between the Class AA game featuring Clarke Preparatory School and Patrician Academy that kicks at 1 p.m., and the nightcap of Southern Academy against Autauga Academy which is set to kick at 7 p.m.

A bonfire is set for tonight at 7 p.m., at Morgan Academy.