Flashes on cusp of region championship
Published 11:30 am Thursday, October 30, 2014
St. Aloysius has largely been an afterthought in Mississippi high school football for the past two decades. It makes sense, then, that on Halloween night the program can make a Cinderella-like leap to glory on the backs of a bunch of guys who, in terms of glamour, are pumpkins.
St. Al (8-1, 6-0 Region 2-1A) can clinch its first region championship since 1993 by beating Montgomery County (5-5, 4-3) on the road Friday night. The Flashes have won 12 of their last 14 games going back to last season.
While stars like quarterback Connor Smith and running back DeMichael Harris — who have combined for more than 1,800 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns — get the glory, coach BJ Smithhart said the secret to his team’s success has been less-heralded players like linemen Jacob Kitchens and Bash Brown, and versatile role players like Rett Verhine.
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Their contributions have given the Flashes the depth to dominate teams instead of merely competing with them, helping turn the team into a state championship contender. St. Al is ranked fifth in this week’s Associated Press Class 1A poll.
“We’ve got good players. More importantly, we’ve got really experienced players and we’ve got depth. We’ve had good players before, but not enough of them playing together,” Smithhart said. “It’s easy to point out the superstars. But it’s important to remember the guys who do the dirty work. We wouldn’t be in this position without them.”
St. Al’s position is first place, a spot that’s as rare to the program as a trick-or-treater in August.
The Flashes have only won four region championships since the MHSAA implemented a playoff system in 1981. The last was in 1993, when Smithhart was in high school and years before his current players were even a gleam in their parents’ eyes.
St. Al can clinch the Region 2-1A title with a victory over Montgomery County, which is tied with Greenville-St. Joseph for the fourth and final playoff berth from the region.
“It’s big. The kids ought to be fired up to win a district championship. Hopefully we can get that done,” Smithhart said.
Montgomery County isn’t likely to make it easy.
The Hornets only have 18 players on the roster, but have already won two more games than last season, and dramatically improved on a 1-9 finish two seasons ago.
St. Al won 55-20 in last year’s meeting in Vicksburg — it was a win that sparked St. Al on a run to the Class 1A North State championship game — but Smithhart said the Hornets have gotten better since then. Four players have at least 150 rushing yards, and they’ve had 195 or more as a team in four of their five victories.
Smithhart said Montgomery County also uses a variety of gadget plays to offset its lack of depth and keep opponents off-balance.
“They don’t have a lot of players, but they’re older. They’re definitely the most improved team in the district,” Smithhart said. “They do a lot of unorthodox things to put themselves in a position to score. They seem to call those plays at the right time. They’ve got a lot of good backs. You have to play your assignments and be in the right place at the right time.”