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Walton, Thompson help Knights achieve perfection


Tuscaloosa Academy’s Clayton Marchant (14) tries to shoot past Monroe Academy’s Justin Rowell during Thursday night’s game at Tuscaloosa Academy. The Knights end the regular season with a 10-0 record. (Photo by Erin Nelson )


TUSCALOOSA | Jaevon Walton and Clay Thomas combined for 308 rushing yards Thursday night to help the Tuscaloosa Academy Knights achieve perfection.

Thomas ran for two touchdowns in the first half, Walton scored twice in the second half and the Knights defeated Monroe Academy 28-20 to end the regular season with a 10-0 record. Tuscaloosa Academy, No. 3 in the AISA poll, overcame a 14-7 deficit and finished with 326 rushing yards. The No. 2-ranked Volunteers finished the regular season at 9-1. Both teams qualified for the Class AAA playoffs as region champions.

Walton rushed for 190 yards on 24 carries, gaining 101 yards in the second half. Thomas had 118 yards on 20 attempts. As a safety, he ended Monroe Academy’s next-to-last possession by batting down a fourth-down pass. The Knights took over with 1:10 left and gave the ball up on downs with 5.5 seconds left. Monroe Academy quarterback Jake McKenzie threw an incomplete pass on the final play.

"Knocking down that pass was definitely more important," Thomas said. "That’s a play that we saw a lot on film, and we knew they were going to come with it, a backside post (route) in the middle. I just made a read on it from seeing it all on the film. I knew I could just bat it down because it was fourth down. Right place at the right time.

"The offense is great, but I mean it’s not anything to do with me. It’s everybody on the offense — the offensive line, Jaevon at fullback. Having him in the backfield with me, you couldn’t ask for a better running back back there because they’re always eyeing him and I can get some little cheap yards every now and then. Every bit of the credit I give to the offensive line. They did the best job I’ve ever seen them do."

McKenzie rushed for 107 yards on 18 carries and scored three touchdowns. The Knights limited him to 24 yards on eight carries in the second half.

"Just the maturity level of our team is probably the thing I’m most proud of," said Tuscaloosa Academy coach Robert Johnson. "The offensive and defensive lines played absolutely outstanding. Monroe has an unbelievable team. We were fortunate to win this game, but at the same time we deserved to win this football game."

Thomas had a 45-yard gain during the Knights’ second possession and scored on a 3-yard run. Austin Menard kicked the first of his four extra points for a 7-0 lead. McKenzie scored on an 8-yard run with 8:48 left in the second quarter. Craig Bryan kicked the extra point to tie it at 7.

The Volunteers took a 14-7 lead with a 66-yard drive in five plays. McKenzie capped it with a 10-yard run. The Knights went 80 yards in four plays with Walton’s 49-yard gain setting up Thomas’ 8-yard touchdown run.

Near the end of the half, the Knights threatened, but Connor Morgan intercepted a pass in the end zone. Morgan came up with another interception in the fourth quarter.

"We could have come out in the second half and let that affect us that we didn’t score there," Johnson said. "Instead, we came out and stuffed them and went down there and scored. I didn’t tell (the linemen) we had to have it because they know it. We definitely committed to the run. They did a great job in pass coverage, so they kind of forced our hand on that. At the same time, our guys were able to really execute running the ball."

After Thomas returned a punt 33 yards to the Monroe Academy 37, the Knights ran the ball nine times and got a touchdown on Walton’s 2-yard run.

In the fourth quarter, Walton started a drive with a 39-yard gain and scored on a 9-yard run with 8:29 left. McKenzie got his final touchdown on a 20-yard dash with 7:33 left.

Tuscaloosa Academy will host Escambia Academy in the first round of the playoffs on Nov. 2.

 

Reach Andrew Carroll at andrew.carroll@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0223.