By Josh Bean | For the AHSAA
Auburn, AL – Andalusia High School head football coach Trent Taylor played for the Bulldogs in their 7-0 victory over Walter Welborn in the 1977 Class 3A state championship game.
It took Andalusia 45 years to get back to the mountaintop, and Taylor led the way.
Running back Dorian Crittenden ran 31 times for 246 yards and two touchdowns to earn MVP honors as the Bulldogs (14-1) downed Cherokee County (12-3) in the AHSAA Super 7 Class 4A championship game 28-7 Friday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The championship win came exactly 45 years to the day after the 1977 championship.
“It’s an unbelievable experience,” Taylor said.
It is the first state title as a head coach for Taylor, who has won 267 games in 35 years as a head coach at Kinston, Straughn and Andalusia. His career record is 267-146 overall and 84-25 in eight seasons at his alma mater.
Don Sharpe, who coached the 1977 title and the Bulldogs 1976 co-state championship resulting from a 7-7 tie in the final with Athens, attended the regular-season loss to Montgomery Catholic earlier this season – the Bulldogs’ only loss of 2022 – and Taylor said his legendary coach was probably watching at home.
“On Tuesday, I got an email (from Sharpe) that said it was the last email of the week,” Taylor said. “I got four more after that. He’s been coaching us all along.”
Andalusia played without junior running back J’Marion Burnette, a highly regarded prospect, who left the quarterfinal playoff victory over Anniston with an injury and didn’t play the rest of the season. He was on the sidelines in his No. 2 jersey to cheer on his teammates Friday at Auburn.
The Bulldogs didn’t miss a beat with Crittenden, a 6-foot, 205-pound senior, in the lineup, as he ran for 215 yards in the semifinal victory over Montgomery Catholic and added 246 yards in the championship game.
“It was a big role I seen I had to take,” Crittenden said. “I stood up and did what I had to do.”
Andalusia built a 14-7 halftime lead, as Kaden Denson turned a screen pass into a 34-yard touchdown and Zerrick Jones scored on a 7-yard run. Cherokee County’s Jacob Cornejo scored on a 1-yard run in the second quarter.
The Warriors’ Haden Wheeler appeared to intercept a pass deep in Andalusia territory with 10:29 to go in the third quarter, but the Warriors struggled to get the offense on the field and called timeout.
Andalusia then challenged the call, and instant replay showed Wheeler didn’t complete the catch while going to the ground. Andalusia kept the ball and punted it away.
Crittenden added scoring runs of 1 and 2 yards, as the Bulldogs seized control with its ground game. Andalusia finished with 261 yards on 40 rush attempts.
“I felt like they were making first contact on both sides of the ball,” Cherokee County coach Jacob Kelley said. “We didn’t make enough plays to stay in the thing, especially in the second half.”
Cherokee County’s Jeb Crane left the field on a stretcher in the first half after suffering a leg injury. His teammates rallied, however, and marched to its only touchdown.
Cornejo led Cherokee County with 87 yards on 18 carries, and quarterback Cade Hopper completed 6-of-13 passes for 101 yards. Tristan Brown led the Warriors with 11 tackles.
Denson caught eight passes for 106 yards, providing the perfect complement to Andalusia’s rugged running game. Cameron Johnson led the defense with nine tackles and a sack, Xavier Marshall intercepted a pass in the second half for the game’s only turnover, and Landon Marshall added six tackles and a sack.
Taylor noted Andalusia had reached the semifinals five times since 2016 before finally breaking through this year for Friday’s championship win. “This means so much to all of those guys,” he said.
Added Crittenden, “We did everything everybody wanted to do. We did it today.”
The Super’s final day continued Friday with Fyffe (14-0) and B.B. Comer (12-2) clashing in the 2A finals at 3 p.m. The Class 6A championship game closes out the 27th Super 7 at 7 p.m. with Mountain Brook (12-2) taking on Saraland (13-1).
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.