The last time Central-Phenix City was in Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Red Devils were finishing off a state title season. On Thursday, the Red Devils returned to Jordan-Hare and also brought back their winning ways.
Central won eight games in a 7-on-7 tournament hosted by Auburn University before losing in the semifinals. The string of wins was a case of deja vu for the Red Devils, who won the 7-on-7 tournament last summer.
Central dominated the early portion of the day, topping Carrollton 32-7, Berkmar 22-19, Chapel Hill 17-10, Greenville 39-0, Benjamin Russell 37-11, Shaw 30-6 and Chelsea 34-4. The Red Devils ripped defense after defense with big plays from quarterbacks Tucker Melton and Trey Miles as well as receivers E.J. Williams and Peter Jakes.
The wins propelled the Red Devils into the quarterfinals, where they beat Colquitt County 27-16. Central’s luck ran out against Woodward Academy, resulting in a 17-7 loss.
Woodward went on to beat Pinson Valley in the championship game.
"For what we use it for – the competition and getting better in the passing game and the pass defense – I thought our kids played really hard. I thought we made plays when we had to make plays and did really well," Central coach Jamey DuBose said. "The 7-on-7’s are a weird game where if the ball bounces right one time or two times here or there, you’re good. If it don’t, you’re in trouble a little bit.
"When it got down to the end of the day, we couldn’t make two plays when we needed to make two plays."
Central was one of four area teams to participate in the tournament. Auburn, Opelika, LaFayette also brought their skill players to the competition as the teams continue to grind through the summer in preparation for the fall season.
Auburn opened Thursday’s play against American Christian and wasted little time getting going. Junior quarterback Matthew Caldwell and junior wide receiver Ja’Zavion Ray helped the Tigers produce several big passing plays, and the Tigers’ defense made three interceptions in a 26-0 victory.
The Tigers were 4-1 through their first five games of the day’s action.
“I think the big thing is it gives your kids a chance to compete and see how they perform in a different kind of competitive environment. It also shows you how they do when they fail and how they handle adversity,” Auburn High head coach Adam Winegarden said. “I've been pleased with the kids. I think we made a lot of errors, but we have a lot of new players. I think we've been competitive each game, and we've had a teachable spirit. That's what we ask for.”
Opelika split up its squad between the Auburn camp and one at Troy. The Bulldogs traded barbs with the likes of Fort Walton Beach, Hoover as well as Paul Bryant in a game in which Opelika fell behind 16-0 with nine minutes to go. Running back Naetavious Evans and the Bulldogs mounted a late comeback but ultimately lost 22-15.
The Bulldogs in Troy, meanwhile, were 4-1 before falling to Bainbridge to finish in the tournament’s top eight.
The LaFayette Bulldogs found themselves taking on a defending state champion in Class 6A’s Pinson Valley and walked away with a 32-0 defeat. The Bulldogs kept battling and later beat Hewitt-Trussville.
“We don't have all our ammunition with us today, but those guys have been competing,” LaFayette head coach James Lucas said. “(The 7-on-7's) actually help you with the speed and the aggression of the game. We're playing against some good teams like Bob Jones, Pinson Valley and all those guys. You're playing against the big schools like that that have been in the playoffs and are in championship form. It helps our kids get better.”