PHENIX CITY — Dancing with Devils all night, Joseph McKay charged into the teeth of Auburn High, Tucker Melton hit E.J. Williams in the game-breaking moments, and the Central defense played lights out as Garrett-Harrison Stadium celebrated the Red Devils’ 38-0 win on Friday night in the Class 7A semifinals.
Central moves on the Class 7A state championship game for the second straight year, and will face Thompson on Dec. 4 in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Friday night was Central’s night from the start. McKay pounded Auburn High early and Williams’ catches from Melton punched the air out of the visitors’ sideline later in the bitter rivalry rematch.
Central’s offense rolled up 468 total yards while the Red Devil defense held Auburn High to just 94.
“I’m just happy to be back,” Melton said on the jubilant field after the win, as his teammates jumped for joy all around him.
Central moves to 12-1. Auburn High’s season ends at 9-4.
In last year’s state championship game, Central beat Thompson 52-7 in an all-Devils shocker last winter in Jordan-Hare. The story of this season started back in August with a 17-14 loss to Hoover in a showcase game in Montgomery.
The Red Devils have since won 12 straight, including Friday night’s trouncing in the state’s final four.
“It was an exciting win,” said McKay, who rushed for 74 yards on 19 carries. “We came in with the mindset that we were going to dominate and we exactly did that.
“I knew we had to run the ball to win,” he said simply. “We ran the ball and we won.”
Central led 17-0 at halftime before Melton hit Williams for a 44-yard gain and then McKay pounded in a 13-yard touchdown to cap a seven-play scoring drive to start the third quarter and put the game out of reach.
McKay’s efforts countered that of Auburn High’s Aaron Diggs, who carried it 40-plus times in Auburn High’s state-shocking 26-0 win over undefeated, top-ranked McGill-Toolen in the state quarterfinals last week.
Meanwhile, the Central defense held Diggs to 44 yards on 16 carries, its athletic ability lighting the field on fire. On an example in the first half, Auburn High drew up a winning third-down play faking to the central focus, Diggs, then throwing out to a screen — but Central’s speed charged Auburn High quarterback Patrick McGlon and disrupted the play-call before it could develop.
“The defense was unbelievable,” Central safety Michael Harris said. “My teammates, we did a lot. We ran around, we chased the ball, pursuit, every chance we got, and we did a lot of great things to help get this win.”
Central’s defense has given up just 13 points in the Class 7A playoffs. Central beat Fairhope 45-7 in the first round and beat Prattville 24-6 in the second round.
“Our defense may have just played one of the defensive games I’ve ever seen in my life,” Central head coach Jamey DuBose said. “Very excited for those guys, and I’m very excited for all our kids to have the opportunity to go back. The state championship speaks volumes for our senior class.”
The often-no-nonsense DuBose danced with his team in front of the Red Devils’ band, as the team skipped its way back to the state finals. Williams finished with four catches for 166 yards, the Clemson commit matching up opposite Auburn High’s Stanford commit and standout Omari Porter.
He caught a 53-yard pass from Melton with less than two minutes on the second-quarter clock in a 10-0 game just before half, kick-starting the Red Devils’ score to make it 17-0 at the break. He caught a 44-yarder on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter to set up McKay’s separation score, and then later in the third, caught an intermediate pass from Melton on the sideline then broke free for a 58-yard touchdown that made it 31-0 and effectively put the game out of reach.
Peter Jakes caught two touchdown passes, his first coming off a deflection in the red zone. Noah Pell’s 27-yard field goal in the second quarter bounced off the upright and in for the score.
Central simply wasn’t to be denied.
“I said, ‘Hey, if we get a win, I’ll dance.’ And I had to fulfill my promise to them,” DuBose said.
Auburn High’s season finished one game short of the state championship game.
“I thought we had a great season and thought this senior class did just a fantastic job,” Auburn High head coach Adam Winegarden said.
“I really think they’ve laid even a greater foundation in our program culture,” Winegarden said of his senior group. “Their relationships are going to last forever and ever. I think they got everything they could out of this team.”
Thompson beat Hoover 35-21 across the state.
Central’s loss to Hoover back in August started this team’s story — but it didn’t end it.
“It shows the character of our team,” Melton said. “A lot of people doubted us at the start. We just came together after that.
“We’re here now.”
SCORE BY QUARTERS
AHS 0 0 0 0—0
CHS 7 10 14 7—38
CHS—Peter Jakes 9 pass from Tucker Melton (Noah Pell kick), 6:48.
CHS—Noah Pell 27 field goal, 7:45.
CHS—Peter Jakes 10 pass from Tucker Melton (Noah Pell kick), 0:33.
CHS—Joseph McKay 13 run (Noah Pell kick), 8:50
CHS—E.J. Williams 58 pass from Tucker Melton (Noah Pell kick), 0:48.
CHS—Dexter Wright 12 run (Noah Pell kick), 6:34