Editor’s note: As the winter sports season continues into the new year, The Times-Journal reflects on some of the biggest DeKalb County sports stories of 2020.
Plainview boys win 5th straight SMT title:
The Plainview varsity boys basketball team started the second half with a 4-0 run and widened the scoring margin to 20 midway through the final period en route to a 93-77 win against North Sand Mountain, claiming their fifth straight Sand Mountain Tournament championship in Rainsville on Saturday, Dec. 19.
The Bears extended their record championship reign on Sand Mountain by improving to 15-1 on the season at DeKalb County Schools Coliseum.
Luke Smith scored a game-high 26 points with eight rebounds and six steals for Plainview. Cole Millican added 23 points, Jonah Williams had 12 points and Jathan Underwood chipped in five rebounds.
Millican was named tournament MVP. The varsity boys all-tournament team included: Williams, Smith and Dylan Haymon of Plainview; Luke Maples and Russ Marr of NSM; Tate Goolesby, Brody Dalton and Xavier Works of Fyffe; Geraldine’s Ridge Berry and Section’s Alex Guinn.
The Bison led 50-48 at halftime but trailed 56-50 inside the first 2 minutes of the third quarter after Plainview’s full-court defensive pressure forced turnovers and led to quick scores.
Williams scored a fast break layup to end the third, giving the Bears a 77-59 lead. Smith scored on an inbounds pass from Williams to push Plainview’s lead to 20 with 7:40 left in regulation.
The Bears raced to a 13-4 lead, forcing NSM coach Cole Hicks to call timeout with 4:19 remaining in the opening period. The timeout was beneficial, as the Bison pulled within 24-17 heading into the second quarter.
During the second quarter, Ty Griggs found Underwood for a layup, Millican converted a 3-point play and Smith added a layup in the final seconds to make it a 2-point game at halftime.
NSM had three players score in double figures, led by Maples’ 19 points. Marr finished with 18 points and Derek Bearden added 17 points.
Cornerstone plays for state title in 1st season of 8-man competition:
The Cornerstone Christian Academy Eagles finished as state runners-up in their first season of eight-man football.
The Eagles took a 41-6 loss to Russell Christian Academy (Miss.) in the Christian Football Association’s eight-man state championship game in Cottondale on Friday, Nov. 6.
Lucas Hale completed five passes to Matt Johnson for 112 yards and the Eagles’ lone touchdown of the title game. Hale finished the night completing 7 of 17 passes for 116 yards with no interceptions; he rushed for 44 yards on 14 carries.
Israel Phillips led all Cornerstone runners with 49 yards on six attempts. Johnson returned four kickoffs for 78 yards.
On the defensive side, Johnson and Layne Fortner finished with six tackles apiece and Eli Carter, Tristan Johnson and Hale added five stops each.
The Warriors gained 436 yards of offense en route to earning their fourth straight CFA state championship, while Cornerstone ended its first season of eight-man competition with a championship game appearance under the guidance of first-year head coach Jeff Nelson.
Destin Lea rushed for a game-high 203 yards on 14 carries with three touchdowns for Russell. Micah Taylor threw for 157 yards and four scores with no interceptions on 7-of-17 passing. Mason Easterwood and Kyle Ingram each had two receptions for 60 yards and two scores.
John Benny Jones finished with a game-high nine tackles for the Warriors.
After playing to a scoreless first quarter, Russell unleashed a 22-point, second-quarter effort, powered by three scoring passes from Taylor.
Johnson reeled in a pass from Hale for a 78-yard touchdown in the third quarter to make the deficit 28-6.
Cornerstone closed the game with seven first downs to Russell’s 17 and 228 yards of offense.
Fyffe cheerleading looks to add to dynasty:
The Fyffe cheerleading team, having won the past eight Class 2A state titles, looks to add to its championship collection in its first year competing at the 3A level.
Fyffe won its ninth straight AHSAA state bid at the North Super Regional on Tuesday, Nov. 10.
The AHSAA state cheer finals, originally scheduled for December at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, were rescheduled to February 3-4, 2021, at the Birmingham CrossPlex.
With 2019 being their first year competing in both game day and traditional contests, the Red Devils finished with the highest score in the traditional routine spanning classes 1-7A. They also finished second in game day in 1-3A, second only to Opp of Class 3A. Fyffe’s overall game day score was the third-highest among all classifications.
Robinson, Ider rush into AHSAA history:
Hunter Robinson capped the Ider football season with an AHSAA season-high 462 yards rushing on 32 attempts with three touchdowns, yardage good for the fifth-best single-game rushing performance in AHSAA football history, according to the AHSAA Record Book.
Ider finished the game against Whitesburg Christian with 607 yards rushing on 63 attempts as a team and added 57 yards passing for 664 total yards. The 607 team rushing yards ranked eighth-best all-time in the AHSAA on Friday, Oct. 23.
Robinson, a sophomore whose skill set allowed him to be incorporated into different areas of Ider’s offense and defense this season, was recognized in the week’s AHSAA Football Spotlight. The AHSAA Football Spotlight is a weekly online article compiling the previous week’s top performances in Alabama high school football and is available to readers on the AHSAA’s website.
According to the AHSAA, Parrish High School’s Tony Dixon, who starred for the University of Kentucky in college, set the AHSAA single-game rushing record in 2003 with 531 yards on 21 carries in a wild 81-58 win against Hubbertville. Gaylesville’s Jerry Stancil had 470 yards on 23 carries in a 48-28 win against Spring Garden in 2004, and Daleville’s Jalen White had the next two top performances – both in 2019 – with 465 yards on 26 carries in a 70-51 win vs. Geneva County and followed with 463 yards and eight touchdowns on just nine carries as Daleville beat Barbour County 78-26. Cherokee County’s Michael Perry had the fifth-best all-time rushing performance with 457 yards on 30 carries in a 48-30 victory against Hokes Bluff in 1991.
Robinson’s performance edged out an all-round effort by Dale County defensive standout Christian Ross in the Warriors’ 21-15 double-overtime win against Straughn in Class 4A, Region 2 that sealed the third playoff seed this season.
The individual success Robinson achieved came through the natural progression of the game. Robinson relied on the trust of his teammates and coaches just as they relied on him.
During the finale, Ider had two of Robinson’s 50-plus-yard touchdown runs negated due to penalties. Ider coach Miles Keith said Robinson would’ve come close to breaking Dixon’s all-time single-game rushing record if those two runs had not been called back.
The Hornets dealt with tragedy off the field and adversity on the field this season. The school and community mourned the passing of principal Cyrus Frost. A few weeks later, the football team was forced to forfeit a pair of crucial region games due to COVID-19-related concerns.
Through it all, Ider managed to light up the night on the field one last time in 2020, pumping some positive energy into the community that had endured so much.
After three narrow losses in a row, including a 34-27 overtime loss to Pisgah on Oct. 8, the Hornets dropped to 1-7 overall and 0-4 in Class 2A, Region 7 and out of the playoff race.
Then came the Oct. 23 game against Whitesburg Christian and Ider ended it with a bang.
Ider closed its 2020 campaign at 2-8 overall and 1-5 in region play.
Fyffe’s Benefield wins 300th game:
Ike Rowell rushed for three touchdowns, and Brodie Hicks and Kyle Dukes each ran for two scores as Fyffe head coach Paul Benefield earned his 300th career coaching win in a 49-20 triumph over Sylvania on Friday, Nov. 11.
With the win, Benefield’s career record improved to 300-53, a state-leading 85% winning rate. In his 29th coaching year, Benefield’s record improved to 255-42 at Fyffe in 24 seasons and was 46-18 at Sylvania his first five seasons from 1992-96.
Win No. 300 came 28 years to the day after Benefield posted his first victory. Victory No. 1 came on September 11, 1992, when Benefield, coaching at Sylvania, notched his first coaching win with a 2-0 shutout against Ider. Turn the clock forward to September 11, 2020, and Fyffe beat his old team by giving up the Red Devils’ first points of the season in the 49-20 win.
Benefield joined an elite class of 300 winners in the AHSAA. He became the fifth coach to win 300 games all in the AHSAA. The 300-club includes: Buddy Anderson of Vestavia Hills, Terry Curtis of UMS-Wright, Danny Horn of Central-Clay, Jamie Riggs of Houston Academy, Waldon Tucker of Fayette County, Glenn Daniel of Luverne and Fred Yancey of Briarwood Christian. All but Daniel and Yancey are still coaching. Tucker had 25 of his 310 wins in Alabama outside the AHSAA, and Yancey posted 41 of his 319 wins at schools in other states. Anderson, 342-158, plans to retire after this season, his 43rd year at Vestavia Hills.
In Red Devils’ historic win against Sylvania, they rushed for 354 yards and held the Rams scoreless for three quarters of the Class 3A, Region 7 game.
Rowell finished with 164 yards rushing on 12 carries, Dukes had nine carries for 87 yards and Hicks ran four times for 51 yards.
Fyffe pulled ahead 14-0 in the first quarter with scoring runs by Dukes and Rowell, respectively. Rushing touchdowns by Rowell, Dukes and Hicks pushed Fyffe to a 35-0 halftime lead.
Gareth Anderson finished with 11 carries for 100 yards rushing for Sylvania. Braiden Thomas had 73 yards rushing on nine carries. Brody Smith was 6-of-10 passing for 47 yards.
Styles Hughes scored a 2-yard rushing touchdown for the Rams with 8:41 left in the fourth, Harris scored on a 5-yard run a minute later and Jackson Smith added an 8-yard scoring run with 5 seconds left.
Cornerstone girls deliver school’s 1st state title:
With the success of playing for last season’s state championship still permeating throughout the program, the Cornerstone Christian Academy girls basketball team set an end goal to return and finish the job.
The common belief in the word “together,” combined with their talent on the court helped the Eagles ascend to championship glory this season.
CCA defeated Brooklane Baptist Academy 53-46 in the Alabama Christian Athletic Association Division I title game in Oxford on Saturday, Feb. 22, capturing the first varsity state championship in school history.
The CCA girls’ championship win came in their fourth varsity season.
The Eagles fell short to rival Tabernacle Christian in last year’s ACAA Division I state title game. In its journey to reach the championship stage again, the team rallied around the word “together.”
CCA lost to Brooklane twice during the regular season and the two programs remained on a collision course as the year progressed.
After taking a 41-27 lead heading into the fourth quarter of the championship game, Brooklane rallied to within five points with 5 minutes remaining. Brooklane used fast-break opportunities to make it a five-point game with 40 seconds left.
But CCA held off the comeback attempt and completed its mission.
CCA collected a rebound with a seven-point lead and 15 seconds left, holding the ball until the clock hit triple-zero.
Nelson, the Eagles’ lone senior, amassed 25 points and 24 rebounds in the final two games and was also voted to the all-state team.
Nelson was a relative newcomer to basketball, with it being only her second year playing the sport. She started playing as a junior after one of her best friends and teammates, Darby Culpepper, convinced her to join the team.
Before basketball, Nelson’s athletic focus was on volleyball and soccer. Her success in volleyball earned her a scholarship to continue playing the sport at Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn. She said her experience playing basketball at CCA has made it her new favorite sport.
Nelson credited her love of the game to her teammates and coaches Harrison and Lori Culpepper.
Sophomore Laura Beth Wells was selected to the all-state team and earned tournament MVP with a total of 43 points during the final stretch.
Plainview volleyball plays for state title:
The Bears fell one win shy of capturing the volleyball program’s first state title in a 3-0 (25-15, 25-13, 25-18) loss to the Trinity Presbyterian Wildcats in the Class 3A state final match at Bill Harris Arena in Birmingham on Oct. 29.
Plainview (29-20) was led by a double-double of 17 assists and 11 digs from Ali Price. Jocelyn Hatfield added 10 kills and eight digs and Abby McGee chipped in 15 digs. Price, Hatfield and McGee all earned spots on the Class 3A All-State Tournament team.
Plainview defeated Thomasville 3-0 (25-21, 25-22, 25-13) in the state quarterfinal round Wednesday morning, before topping Houston Academy 3-1 (21-25, 27-25, 25-14, 25-18) in the semifinal round later that afternoon.
Plainview’s seniors included Summer Wooten, Anabelle Taylor, Jesi Fairris and Keirstan Hiett. The team had no juniors and will bring back a lot of youth next season.
Fyffe volleyball plays in state semifinal:
The Fyffe volleyball team returned to the state tournament for the first time in four years, and even though the Red Devils came up short in a 3-1 (25-21, 25-23, 24-26, 25-19) quarterfinal-round loss to Houston Academy, seventh-year head coach Brandi Rowell liked how her team came to handle adversity.
In the Red Devils’ previous state tournament run in 2016, they finished with a 3-0 loss to Winston County in the 2A semifinals.
The Red Devils (39-15) were led by seniors Jade Benefield, Summer Anderson and Jade Johnson.
Geraldine’s Mayfield races to state titles:
Geraldine senior Collin Mayfield finished as the Class 3A boys individual state runner-up in the 2020 AHSAA Cross Country Championships in Oakville on Nov. 14.
Mayfield clocked in at 16 minutes, 33 seconds, just 5 seconds behind Providence Christian’s Conner Patterson to place second overall in the race.
Mayfield has three indoor track and field individual state championships and one individual cross country title.
During Mayfield’s two-day stint at the state indoor meet in Birmingham in February, he earned championships in Class 1-3A’s 800-meter run, 1600-meter run and 3200-meter run, respectively.
Mayfield captured his Class 3A state cross country championship in fall of 2019.
In October, Mayfield signed a national letter of intent to continue his track and cross country career at Lee University.
Fort Payne’s Wallace wins indoor track title:
Fort Payne senior Madi Wallace won the gold medal in the Class 6A girls 60-meter hurdles at the AHSAA Indoor Track and Field State Championships in Birmingham in February.
As a sophomore, Wallace won silver in the 60-meter hurdles at the state meet, in addition to silvering in the 300-meter hurdles and earning two bronze medals in the 4x800-meter relay and three bronze medals in the 4x400-meter relay in her career.
Wallace, who maintains a 4.0 GPA, helped the Wildcats win six consecutive Class 6A, Section 4 championships and holds school records in the 60-meter hurdles, completing the race in 9.17 seconds, and the 300-meter hurdles (45.76). She holds a 15.3 second personal record in the 100-meter hurdles and earned the track and field team’s Outstanding Performance Award in 2019 and 2020.
Wallace signed a national letter of intent to continue her track and field career at Austin Peay State University in November.
Traylor, Ider win state cross country titles:
Seventh-grader Makinley Traylor crossed the finish line in 20 minutes, 43 seconds to win the AHSAA Class 1A-2A girls individual state cross country championship and help the Ider girls place third in the 1A-2A team competition of the AHSAA Cross County State Championships at Oakville Indian Mounds Park in Oakville on Nov. 14.
Traylor’s first-place finish was 12 seconds faster than state runner-up Reagan Parris of Cold Springs and 41 seconds faster than third-place finisher Brooke Crider of Cold Springs. Traylor earned all-state honors in addition to her top individual finish.
Seventh-grader Kennzie Smith (23:05) was Ider’s second finisher in 24th place and sophomore Lexi Brewer (23:42) finished third for the team in 37th.
Ider relied heavily on the strength of its young nucleus of runner this season. The girls team fielded five seventh-graders (Kennzie Smith, Makinley Traylor, Brynley Traylor, Emma Hayes and Madilyn Johnson), an eighth-grader (Maleah Smith), a freshman (Aubree Chapman) and a sophomore (Brewer). Junior Everett King was Ider’s lone male runner to qualify for the state competition; he finished 58th overall (19:59).
Collinsville girls win state basketball title:
The Collinsville girls defeated defending Class 2A state champion Cold Springs 58-45 to claim the program’s first state championship at Legacy Arena in Birmingham in March.
Performing with sharp fundamentals helped the Panthers keep an edge against their competition during the AHSAA Final Four.
Collinsville thrived in half-court offense throughout the last two rounds. Smart passes led to open shooters and high-percentage shots around the basket and from the perimeter.
In their semifinal-round win against G.W. Long, the Panthers spaced the floor and spread the all around until the defense sagged off enough for a high-quality shot from 3-point range or a driving layup.
Collinsville scored its first 15 points against Long from 3-pointers, shooting 71 percent (5 of 7) during the opening period to take a 17-9 lead.
The Panthers had scoring options all across the court and it led to four starters reaching double digits. Hadley Hamilton scored 16 points, including 4-of-8 shooting from 3-point range, and Olivia Akins added 16 points. Class 2A tournament MVP Brittany Rivera finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds, and Tyla Tatum chipped in 13 points.
Fyffe wins 3rd straight football title:
The offensive line created a hole in the middle of the field and Ike Rowell walked in for the go-ahead score to propel the Fyffe Red Devils to a 21-16 comeback victory against the Montgomery Catholic Knights in the Class 3A state championship game at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa on Dec. 3.
The Red Devils completed their third straight 15-0 season for a third consecutive state championship (fifth title in seven years) and first since joining 3A.
Rowell rushed for a game-high 140 yards on 36 carries with three touchdowns, completed 5 of 7 passes with no interceptions for 155 yards and returned five kickoffs for 104 yards, as he garnered championship MVP honors. The senior accounted for 295 of Fyffe’s 316 yards of offense.
Fyffe rallied from a 16-0 first-quarter deficit with a defensive effort that kept the Knights scoreless for the final three quarters.
Hunter Gillilan led Fyffe’s defense with seven unassisted tackles, Brodie Hicks had seven tackles (five solo) and Austin Mulligan added five tackles (four solo).
Montgomery Catholic’s offense starting on the 1-yard line as a result of a turnover on downs that allowed Fyffe’s defense to strike late in the fourth quarter. A special teams error on a punt attempt from inside Fyffe’s end zone resulted in a safety for the Red Devils and pulled them within 16-15 with 2:11 to play.
Fyffe responded by traveling 67 yards in just four plays, highlighted by Rowell-to-Brody Dalton passing connections of 34 and 29 yards, respectively, setting up a 2-yard rushing score by Rowell with 1:03 to play, lifting the Red Devils into the lead for the first time at 21-16.