AHSAA SPOTLIGHT: Fairview’s Frost rushes for 5 TDs to lead Aggies to 1st State Playoff Semifinal berth

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Fairview running back Eli Frost racked up 264 yards and five touchdowns on the ground in the Aggies’ 44-27 win over Parker Friday night. (Martha Needham/The Cullman Tribune)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Sophomore running back Eli Frost rushed for 264 yards and five touchdowns on 25 carries last week to propel Fairview High School into the Class 5A state playoff semifinals for the first time in school history.

His strong showing for the Aggies at Dafford Smith Stadium for Coach George Redding propelled him into this week’s AHSAA Football Playoff Spotlight for week three of the 2021 playoffs.

The Aggies (12-1) won for the 10th time since falling to Guntersville 34-19 in the third game of the season. Redding, who has compiled a 101-62 record in 15 seasons as head coach, has led Fairview to a 31-6 record since 2018. The 12 wins also is a first for Fairview’s program, which had its first season 96 years ago in 1925.

Frost scored touchdowns on runs of 1, 7, 9, 22, and 40 yards – his fourth TD breaking a 21-21 tie in the second quarter – and the Aggies’ defense came into its own in the second half versus the high-powered Thundering Herd to seal the win.

The Aggies have reached the state playoffs 18 times in school history but Friday night’s Class 5A semifinal battle with Pleasant Grove (11-1) is a first for the Cullman County team. The Spartans have played in the last two Class 5A state championship games. The two teams will be meeting Friday for the first time in school history, however.

The 5A semifinal will be one of 12 semifinal games slated for the AHSAA this week. This week’s AHSAA TV Network/NFHS Network Playoff Game of the Week produced by WOTM TV will be the Class 6A north semifinal featuring unbeaten Clay-Chalkville (13-0) at Mountain Brook (12-1) Friday night.

The Super 7 State Championships get underway next week with the Class 7A finals and first-ever Girls’ Flag Football Finals kicking off the action at Protective Stadium on Wednesday, Dec. 1. Championship games for Classes 1A, 3A and 5A will be Thursday, Dec., 2, and Classes 2A, 4A and 6A close out the 2021 Super 7 on Friday. All games will be televised live over the AHSAA TV Network and will be live-streamed over the NFHS Network. The AHSAA Radio Network will also broadcast all the championship games over its statewide radio/internet network.

As for Fairview’s Frost, he is ready and willing to share the spotlight with the rest of his team – especially the offensive line consisting of Ethan Bice, Zane Roberts, Tyde Bagwell, Carson Jennings, Bradley Smith, Cale Foster and Eric Gonzalez. Fairview’s strong stable of running backs have rushed for 894 yards in three playoff wins – an average of 298 yards per playoff game. On the year, Fairview has averaged 264.4 rushing yards per contest.

Another not-so-secret weapon for the Aggies has been their very supportive fans. Redding says his team’s fans are the best around.

“From being a manager to a player to a coach, our fans are second to none,” Redding told sports editor Jake Winfrey of The Cullman Times. “Our community has been so consistent and is willing to show up and support the football team, the band, the cheerleaders…It really doesn’t get any better. We’re very thankful.”

Bice, a senior leader among the blockers up front, and senior quarterback Parker Martin agree.

“It’s like something out of Friday Night Lights,” Bice said. “The noise, the atmosphere — it makes us more determined. They come in and blow everyone’s mind every single game.”

Martin added, “We’ve been blessed. It’s awesome to have the whole town behind us. They fuel the fire. Without them, we wouldn’t be as good as we are. We run off their energy. We make plays. They get loud. That is what keeps us going.”

Redding told Winfrey this special season has been special from the get-go.

“Just to see that and their hunger and continuous progression each week … it’s much bigger than football,” he said. “It’s about the relationships. It’s not going to be games or records they remember, even though they’ll have those. It’s going to be the relationships they carry over, and those are special. And, you know, maybe there was a little box this team was supposed to fit in at some point. But these guys decided on what they wanted to accomplish for themselves. And that’s been phenomenal to see.”

Fairview’s big win over Birmingham-Parker edged out another strong team performance by Class 3A Montgomery Academy, coached by Robert Johnson. The Eagles’ 28-0 shutout win over T.R. Miller in the Class 3A state playoffs last week was the first time the Tigers had held scoreless in a game since 2015. It also marked just the second shutout in the last T.R. Miller’s last 437 games – dating all the way back to 1987. T.R. Miller has been shut out in a playoff game just four times in a history that covers a 51-year span.

The Eagles (10-3), who advanced with the win to meet city rival Montgomery Catholic this week in the semifinals, got all the offense it would need from quarterback Jamal Cooper. He rushed for 118 yards and one touchdown and passed for 78 yards. His brother Jashawn Cooper also had 104 rushing yards and scored MA’s other three TDs.

Ironically, Catholic beat the Eagles 42-0 this season to snap a 40-gme scoring streak for Montgomery Academy. The two teams also met in the 3A semifinals last season with the Knights emerging with a 35-28 overtime win to advance to the Super 7 state finals. This time, the state finals are waiting on the winner again.

Other strong performances reported from week three include:

MILESTONES

BRAYDEN KYLE, DECATUR HERITAGE: Was 12-of-29 passing for 283 yards and five touchdowns and rushed 19 times for 77 yards and another score in the Eagles’ 60-49 Class 1A playoff loss to Pickens County. He finished the season completing 148-of-237 passes for 2,985 yards and 38 touchdowns and rushed for 1,578 yards and 30 TDs on 111 carries for 4,563 total yards and 68 TDs accounted for. His 4,563 total yards and 68 touchdowns set new single-season AHSAA state records breaking the old marks set by Chris Nickson of Pike County in 2003. Nickson had 4,460 total yards and 67 TDs accounted for in 15 games that season.

KNUTE WOOD, BROOKS: The 6-foot-4, 187-pound senior caught five passes for 112 yards in the Lions’ 56-28 Class 4A playoff loss to Oneonta to close out his senior season with 77 catches and 1,633 yards. He had 20 receiving TDs. His yardage total ranks fifth all-time behind Westbrook Christian receiver Brandon Greer, who had 1,735 yards in 1998; J.J. Evans of Montevallo, who had 1,706 receiving yards in 2018; Ja’Varrius Johnson of Hewitt-Trussville, who 87 passes for 1,683 yards in 2018; and Fayette County’s Darius Nalls, who had 1,659 yards on 78 catches in 2017.

JACK HAYES, PIEDMONT:  Had a hand in all six of the Bulldogs’ touchdowns in his 43rd career start — three rushing and three passing (to three different receivers all in the third quarter). The 6—foot, 190-pound junior finished with 173 yards rushing and 141 yards passing in Piedmont’s 43-14 Class 3A playoff win over Winfield (12-1). The junior now has 112 career touchdown passes and has accounted for 152 touchdowns in his career. He remains fifth on the AHSAA Record Book in the Touchdowns Accounted For list. He is currently one score behind Alexandria legendary running back Mac Campbell – and is fourth on the career Touchdown Passes list.

RUSHING

DEMARCUS LACEY, PLEASANT GROVE: Rushed 15 times for 236 yards and two touchdowns to pace the Spartans (10-1) to a 49-21 Class 5A quarterfinal win over Center Point.

JAY DOBBS, MARS HILL BIBLE: Ran 15 times for 205 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Panthers (10-3) to a 42-19 win over Spring Garden (12-1) in the Class 2A playoffs.

JAVION BELLE, PICKENS COUNTY: Accounted for six touchdowns, running 20 times for 131 yards and four scores while completing 10-of-16 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns in the Tornadoes’ 60-46 Class 1A playoff win over Decatur Heritage. He and adding a pair of 2-point conversions in the Class 1A quarterfinal win over Decatur Heritage.

WILL STOKES, MADISON ACADEMY: Ran for 179 yards and four touchdowns in Mustangs’ 35-28 Class 4A quarterfinal win over Good Hope.

JEREMIAH COBB, MONTGOMERY CATHOLIC: Had 26 carries for 168 yards and two TDs as the Knights (13-0) beat Hillcrest-Evergreen 41-6 in the Class 3A state playoffs.

QUINSHON JUDKINS, PIKE ROAD: Had 17 carries for 145 yards and two touchdowns and teammate Anthony Rogers added 125 yards on 15 carries with three TDs as the Patriots (12-0) advanced in the 5A state playoffs with a 42-0 win of Faith Academy.

PASSING

KHALIB JOHNSON, CLAY-CHALKVILLE: Had five touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime of the 50-44 Class 6A quarterfinal win over Gardendale. He finished 18-of-33 passing for 277 yards and four scores.

WALTER TAYLOR III, JACKSON: Was 15-of-28 passing for 252 yards and scored two TDs, one on a pass reception the other coming on a desperation 7-yard scrambling run for a TD with 4.3 seconds remaining to lead the Aggies to a 24-23 come-from-behind third-round playoff win over defending Class 4A state champion Handley.

CHAPEL POPE, SPRING GARDEN: Completed 13-of-22 pass attempts for 293 yards and a 53-yard touchdown to Cooper Austin. He also ran for 48 yards on 16 carries with a 4-yard score in a 42-19 Class 2A playoff loss at Mars Hill Bible.

ETHAN CRAWFORD, HILLCREST-TUSCALOOSA: Was 19-of-37 passing for 267 yards and a touchdown and added 80 yards rushing and another TD on 11 carries as the Patriots (11-2) topped Saraland 24-16 in the Class 6A quarterfinals.

EARL WOODS, HUEYTOWN: The Gophers’ quarterback rushed times for 112 yards and three touchdowns and was 10-of-21 passing for 249 yards and a score to lead Hueytown *12-1) into the Class 6A semifinals with a 46-10 win over Opelika. The Gophers are currently leading the state in scoring with 689 points in 13 games for a 53.0-points per game average.

PASS RECEIVING

COOPER AUSTIN, SPRING GARDEN: Caught seven passes for 163 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown, in the Panthers’ 42-19 Class 2A playoff loss at Mars Hill Bible. Austin also ran in for a 12-yard score for Spring Garden (12-1).

J’QUON STURDIVANT, HILLCREST-TUSCALOOSA: The receiver finished with nine catches for 117 yards in a 24-16 Class 6A quarterfinal win over Saraland.

RYAN PEPPINS, THOMPSON: Caught six passes for 121 yards and three touchdowns in Warriors’ 35-10 Class 7A semifinal win over Hoover (12-1).

DEFENSE

LUKE HODGE, ONEONTA: Led the Redskins (12-1) with 17 tackles and forced two fumbles in a 56-28 Class 4A quarterfinal win over Brooks (12-1).

T.J. DUDLEY, MONTGOMERY CATHOLIC: Led the defense of the Knights (13-0) with 10 tackles and added an interception return for a touchdown in the Class 4A quarterfinal win over Hillcrest-Evergreen. Hus 34-yard interception return was the fourth pick this season he has returned for a touchdown.

MICHAEL TOWNER, VIGOR: Totaled eight tackles, including four tackles for loss, and returned a fumble 89 yards for a touchdown to lead the Wolves (12-1) to a 26-10 win over American Christian (11-2) in 4A quarterfinals.

CHRISTIAN DAVIS, AMERICAN CHRISTIAN: The senior had 11 tackles and forced a fumble In the Patriots’ 26-10 Class 4A quarterfinal loss to Vigor.

SPECIAL TEAMS

LANDON GOWENS, SPRING GARDEN: Rebounding from knee surgery earlier than expected, he punted twice for 51 and 39 yards for a 45.0 average, batted a pass down and recovered a fumble in his final game with the Panthers (12-1) in their 42-19 Class 2A playoff loss to Mars Hill Bible.