By Josh Bean | For the AHSAA
Auburn, AL – Run the ball. Stop the run. Force turnovers.
This simple, tried-and-true game plan worked to near perfection for Leroy High School Thursday at Jordan-Hare Stadium as the Bears (13-1) earned a decisive 42-20 victory over Pickens County in the AHSAA 2022 Super 7 Class 1A State Championship game.
The Bears essentially put the game away in the first half, as Brayden Huebner ran for three touchdowns, and the defense of Coach Jason Massey limited Pickens County (11-4) to just 22 yards on 14 carries and intercepted two passes to build a 26-0 lead.
“The defense has played great all year,” Massey said. “We’ve got the best defense in the state. We were able to force some turnovers and put them in some bad situations.”
Leroy won its first state championship since 2010, when the Bears won a fifth 2A state title in a seven-year span. For Massey, it’s his first state championship as a head coach after serving as an assistant on four other Leroy state title teams, and it’s the first 1A title in Leroy history.
Huebner finished with 28 carries for 270 yards and five touchdowns, scoring on runs of 16, 1, 1, 81 and 33 yards, and was named the game’s MVP. His five rushing touchdowns tied the Super 7 Class 1A state record equaled by Colt Smith of Mars Hill Bible in 2019 and Terence Dunlap of Maplesville in 2015.
“I’m just thankful for the linemen for making it easy on me,” Huebner said.
Massey agreed with Huebner about the offensive line’s stellar play.
“We ask those guys to do the nitty-gritty hard work,” the coach said. “Those guys have really carried us through the playoffs.”
Leroy received the opening kickoff and drove 76 yards in nine plays, and Taylor Crumedy’s 13-yard run gave the Bears a 7-0 lead. Huebner scored on a 16-yard run on the next possession, before adding two 1-yard TD runs before halftime.
The Bears punctuated their first-half domination in the final minute of the half after appearing to punt, but Massey threw his challenge flag with the belief that Pickens County had too many players on the field. He won the challenge.
Getting the ball back, Huebner raced 55 yards down the right sideline on the next play, moving inside the Tornadoes’ 10, and he scored two plays later to make it 26-0 at halftime.
“It just wasn’t our night, especially in the first half,” Pickens County’s coach Michael Williams said. “We did not come out ready to play. I must be better at getting my team ready to play the game.”
Pickens County has finished as the runner-up four times in the last decade – 2016, 2017, 2020 and this season. The Tornadoes won their lone state championship in 2013.
Demarkis Giles threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Kemaurion Plott early in the third quarter for the Tornadoes’ first score, but Huebner replied with his 81-yard TD run. Pickens County’s Korbit Sommerville then scored on a 73-yard run.
Leroy’s Malcolm Pugh sacked Giles for a safety early in the fourth quarter. “I hit a spin move and just got to him,” Pugh said.
Giles later threw a 63-yard touchdown pass to Plott for the game’s final score with 4:42 to go.
Giles finished 8-of-18 passing for 152 yards, including three passes for 113 yards to Plott. Sommerville had 85 yards on seven carries. Jamarian Cohen led the Pickens County defense with nine tackles.
Huebner accounted for 336 of Leroy’s 392 yards of total offense – 270 rushing and 66 passing. Pugh led the defense with eight tackles, while Shamar Harris, Malik Howell, and Maddux Everett intercepted passes.
Charles Henderson of Troy was scheduled to face Birmingham’s Ramsay Rams in the last game at 7 p.m., in the 5A finals. The 4A, 2A, and 6A championships will be Friday.
All the championship games are being televised over Alabama Public Television Network and live streamed over the NFHS Network’s subscriber-based platform. WOTM TV is producing the games. The AHSAA Radio Network is also broadcasting all seven state championships over its network of stations and its website.