MONTGOMERY, AL – What was expected to be a thrilling showcase for two top-caliber quarterbacks turned into a great night for Bessemer Academy’s defensive backs.
Lamar School’s Davis Harrison had the upper hand in July seven-on-seven drills, but Bessemer Academy’s defensive backs turned the tables with six interceptions in a 35-13 victory over the Raiders in the inaugural Southeastern Commission of Independent Schools Kickoff Classic on Saturday night at Cramton Bowl.
“We’ve been training for this game,” said Chris Levins, whose 76-yard interception return for a touchdown broke a scoreless tie and set the tone for the game. “I felt like we did a good job today. I was hoping not to let them score (but) I wasn’t expecting any picks.”
The game was the last of four games in the first-year event.
Formed in January, 2016, the Southeastern Commission of Independent Schools (SECIS) is an academic and athletic collaboration of the Alabama Independent School Association, Georgia Independent School Association, Mississippi Association of Independent Schools and South Carolina Independent School Association.
The event opened with a pair of games on Friday. Brookwood School of Thomasville, Ga., defeated Trinity-Byrnes Collegiate School of Darlington, S.C., 31-0 and Madison-Ridgeland Academy of Madison, Miss., defeated Valwood School of Hahira, Ga., 34-2.
Earlier on Saturday, Escambia Academy defeated First Baptist School of Charleston (S.C.) 35-12.
But the game that was billed as the best was the last one, pitting Harrison and Bessemer senior Blaine Smith in a duel of top-notch quarterbacks.
Harrison, who led his team to a state championship in 2013 and has thrown for 6,678 yards and 66 touchdowns in his three-year career leading up to Saturday’s game, was constantly harassed by the Rebels, finishing as the Raiders’ leading rusher with 45 yards on six carries and completing 8 of 22 passes for 119 yards but suffering three interceptions, starting with Levins.
“All I remember is the ball being tipped and me catching it,” Levins said. “It was surprising to me but then it just kicked it: Run the ball back.”
His backup, Joseph Hutchinson, was 4 of 13 for 58 yards but was also intercepted three times.
“We had a lot of pressure on us tonight,” Lamar coach Mac Barnes said. “We were trying not to play guys both ways. Our best guys had a hard time matching up against them and when we were playing some guys that were number two receivers, they just had a hard time getting open.”
A second interception set up a touchdown three plays later, a third interception led to a two-play scoring drive and the fifth interception, by Marquan Pollock, was returned 17 yards for a touchdown and a 35-0 lead late in the third quarter.
“That’s four new starters,” Bessemer coach Josh Wright said of his secondary, “and watching them evolve over the summer was great. Our last two seven-on-seven tournaments we won because of our defense. We had a new defensive coordinator, John Cress, and he put together a great game plan. The pressure we applied made them uncomfortable in situations. Then, players made plays.”
Lamar was a last-minute replacement but Barnes – who played and coached in Cramton Bowl at Meridian High – called the experience a memorable one.
“From the word go, it was going to be a very good thing,” he said. “For our kids, they’ve never played in a stadium like this. I’ve been at Lamar for 16 years now and I don’t know if we’ve ever opened up with a team as class as Bessemer. You just can’t make mistakes and we made mistakes and they capitalized on them. The bottom line is class environment, we loved it and we played a really good team.”
Bessemer (1-0) returns to Montgomery next Friday to play Monroe Academy at Faulkner University’s Mark Stallings Field while Lamar School (0-1) returns home to play Winston Academy next week.
LS 0-0-0-13 -- 13
BA 14-14-7-0 -- 35
BA – Chris Levins 76-yard interception return (Jay Fitch kick)
BA – Noah Wilder 28-yard run (Jay Fitch kick)
BA – Thomas Sims 17-yard run (Jay Fitch kick)
BA – Tanner Stinnett 51-yard reception from Blaine Smith (Jay Fitch kick)
BA – Marquan Pollock 17-yard interception return (Jay Fitch kick)
LS – Will Roberts 69-yard reception from Davis Harrison (PAT failed)
LS – Chet Williams 28-yard reception from Joseph Hutchinson (Davis Thames kick)
LS -- BA
First Downs 13 -- 9
Rush-Yds 18-82 –28-146
Passing Yds 177 -- 125
Passes 12-36-6 -- 8-19-1
Punts-Avg. 3-134 (44.7) --- 3-96 (32.0)
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 – 1-1
Penalties-Yds 3-22 – 11-82
RUSHING: BA – Wilder 5-45; Sims 7-43; Smith 3-33. LS – Harrison 6-45; McClelland 4-15.
PASSING: BA – Smith 7-15-1, 119; Wooters 1-3-0, 6. LS – Harrison 8-22-3, 119; Hutchinson 4-13-3, 58.
RECEIVING: BA – Stinnett 3-65; Coleman 4-59. LS – Roberts 2-87; Williams 2-33; Presley 2-28; McGrew 2-25.