FORT PAYNE — As long as there’s time left on the clock, the Fyffe Red Devils can’t be counted out.
They proved that point perfectly by capitalizing on some key defensive plays in rallying from a 16-0, first-quarter deficit to defeat Montgomery Catholic 21-16 in the AHSAA Class 3A state championship game at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa last Thursday.
The Red Devils’ defensive effort kept the Knights (12-3) scoreless for the final three quarters, allowing the offense to go to work with its notorious blue-collar, run-heavy offense led by championship game MVP Ike Rowell.
“Catholic had a great team and we didn’t know if we could stay with them or not,” Fyffe coach Paul Benefield said during the team’s postgame press conference. “(Our) guys have no quit in them and I knew that coming down here; it’s not like a surprise to me.”
Fyffe (15-0) got Montgomery Catholic’s offense off the field with a punt midway through the second quarter while trailing 16-0. After Rowell rushed for a 4-yard score with 4:15 remaining in the half to make it a 10-point game, Fyffe defended a Caleb McCreary pass to the end zone as the half expired.
Defense stalled another Montgomery Catholic drive midway through the third and Fyffe’s offense chewed up 7 minutes off the game clock between the third and fourth quarters to cut it to 16-13 with a 3-yard touchdown run by Rowell.
Justin Stiefel sprang for an interception at Fyffe’ 29-yard line early in the fourth, but the defensive play couldn’t yield points as the Knights’ defense stuffed Rowell on a fourth-and-goal run play from the 1-yard line with 5:10 left.
“I thought we would score but we didn’t,” Benefield said of the goal-line play, “(Our players) knew (the ball) was on the goal line right there and we talk about things like that all the time, keeping people backed up.
“We had plenty of time to do something.”
Montgomery Catholic’s offense starting on the 1-yard line as a result of the turnover on downs allowed Fyffe’s defense to strike. 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.
“Most of the time when we throw the ball there isn’t anybody covering (Dalton),” Rowell said after the game, “but today they were covering and he made two big plays there at the end of the game.”
When the Red Devils need to go to the air, Benefield knows who he wants on the receiving end of a pass.
“We’re always going to throw it up to Big Dawg here,” the coach said, pointing to Dalton. “If he can get his feet on the ground, he’s going to catch it.
“When we can get (Dalton) isolated and not have two or three [defenders] around him — I think he had two or three around him, though, so he proved me wrong. He can catch it with two or three hanging on him too.”
Montgomery Catholic drove 34 yards in six plays to Fyffe’s 34-yard line, where a McCreary pass intended for D.J. Carter tipped off one of his hands in the end zone as time expired.
The Red Devils added to their state championship dynasty by completing their third straight 15-0 season with a third state championship in a row and first since advancing to Class 3A during the AHSAA’s reclassification last offseason. The latest state championship was Fyffe’s fifth in seven years.
Benefield, who captured the 300th victory of his head-coaching career against Sylvania on Sept. 11, witnessed first-hand what the 2020 Red Devils were all about.
“It’s a group of kids who love one another and fight for one another, and you saw that today when they came from behind,” Benefield said after the game.