HATTIESBURG, MS – Saraland High School’s Ryan Williams can now add MVP of the Alabama-Mississippi Classic to his growing list of accolades. Williams sparked the Alabama’s All-Stars to a 26-17 victory with eight receptions for 92 yards and two touchdowns in the 37th Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Football Classic played at M.M Roberts Stadium / Carlisle-Faulkner Field on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi.
Williams had a spectacular performance that included two punt returns for 21 yards. Gadsden City defensive back Dre Kirkpatrick also turned in an outstanding game on defense with two interceptions, a fumble to set up a crucial score right before the half and a pivotal 25-yard kickoff return.
The victory was the fourth in a row for Alabama and upped its control of the series to 26 wins and 11 losses in a series that began in 1988 at Mobile’s Ladd-Peebles Stadium with Alabama claiming the first victory in three overtimes. The series will move back to Mobile’s Hancock Whitney Stadium in 2024.
Alabama was lead by Enterprise Wildcats head coach Ben Blackmon. Clinton High School head coach Judd Boswell coached the Mississippi All-Star squad.
Alabama’s defense created the first scoring opportunity with a sack by Jeremiah Beaman of Parker High School pushing the ball from the 25 to the 13. On fourth down, the Mississippi punter was taken down by Gadsden City’s Dre Kirkpatrick at the 6-yard line to give Alabama the ball. On first down, Jamarian Burnett of Andalusia ran through a gaping hole on the left side and bolted across the goal line to put the boys from Alabama up 7-0 early in the first quarter.
Mississippi tied the game 7-7 with an impressive 71-yard drive on 12 plays – aided by a pass interference call in the end zone. the next play, Trey Petty of Starkville ran untouched off the left end for the score with 9:38 left in the half.
Alabama stormed right back – with a perfectly thrown 48-yard TD pass from Roman Gagliano of Opelika to Saraland’s Ryan Williams to give Alabama a 14-7 lead at the 7:37 mark.
Mississippi cut the lead to 14-10 with 4:33 left in the second quarter when Clinton High’s Hayden Wolfe split the uprights from 38 yards out.
The final four minutes of the first half were highlighted by some strange and unusual plays – the biggest, a completed pass by Mississippi that was fumbled and picked up by Dre Kirkpatrick of Gadsden City. He scampered from the Mississippi 42-yard line all the way to the 16. Quarterback Jared Hollins connected with Williams to the 4-yard line and two plays later, the two hooked up in the end for the touchdown with only five seconds remaining. The PAT was blocked but Alabama went into the locker room with a 20-10 advantage.
Mississippi threatened early in the third quarter, but the drive was thwarted by Xavier Johnson of Muscle Shoals, who picked off a pass at the goal line. Four plays later, Gagliano fired another strike – this time to Benjamin Russell’s Malcolm Simmons – for an 88-yard touchdown and Alabama extended its lead to 26-10 with 4:09 left in the third period.
The hosts cut the lead to 26-17 two minutes later when Daniel Hill of Meridian hauled in an 18 yard touchdown reception. Mississippi followed with a successful onside kick. Theodore defensive lineman Kevin Norwood made two quick tackles forcing Mississippi to punt the ball back to the visitors.
Mississippi, who passed for 220 yards on a 32-of-34 passing effort, saw any chances of a comeback slip away late when defensive end Jamari Payne of Loachapoka deflected a pass and then intercepted it for the final pick of the game.
Williams, who was named Alabama’s Mr. Football in 2022 as a sophomore, became eligible for the All-Star Classic when he announced he was reclassifying as a senior with plans to graduate this school year. He had 12 catches for 232 yards and two TDs, one rushing score and an 85-yard kickoff return for a fourth touchdown in the Spartans’ 31-28 loss to Clay-Chalkville in the 6A finals last week. His prep career totals included 72 catches this season for 1,324 yards and 19 TDs. In 39 games, he has caught 187 passes for 3,254 yards and 47 scores. He also has 24 career rushing touchdowns, three punt returns and kickoff for scores – giving him 71 total TDs.
Alabama piled up 384 total yards with 74 on the ground and 310 through the air. Mary Montgomery’s Hollins was 11-of-19 passing for 160 yards and a score. Opelika’s Gagliano finished the day 4-of-7 for 150 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Andalusia’s Jamarion Burnett had 64 yards rushing on 16 carries and one TD. Donovan Price of Hewitt-Trussville had two catches for 87 yards, Jamarcus Prince of Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa had two for 26 yards and Simmons added a 88-yard TD reception.
Petty completed 13-of-20 passes for Mississippi for 160 yards and a touchdown. Stonka Burnside of Starkville led Mississippi with 11 catches for 108 yards. The team rushed for 62 yards, but the quarterbacks were sacked four times by Alabama’s physical defense. Theodore’s Cameron Pruitt had 10 tackles, Ramsay’s Quinton Reese added eight, Thompson’s Tyler Hicks and Parker’s Beaman had seven each. Johnson of Muscle Shoals had the fourth pick for Alabama.
A scholar-athlete award was presented to a player from each team. Alabama’s recipient was Daylan Martin of Saraland, who was selected for the game but was unable to play after being injured in the Super 7 finals last week
Cover Photo: Defensive back Dre Kirkpatrick of Gadsden City intercepts a pass in the 2023 Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic (AHSAA PHOTO | Riley Campbell/Pure Game)