Sweet Water pulls away from Wadley to win Class 1A Title
BIRMINGHAM – Sweet Water High School used a simple game plan to win the school’s 11th state football championship: Run, run and run some more. Then mix in big plays with the rare pass.
It worked to perfection.
Running backs Christian Dunning and Jaland Lewis Horton rushed for more than 150 yards apiece, and quarterback Walker Thompson threw two long touchdown passes as the Bulldogs (14-0) earned a 34-16 victory over Wadley (13-2) in Thursday’s AHSAA Super 7 Class 1A State Football Championship game at Birmingham’s Protective Stadium.
“Our goal was to win state,” Sweet Water coach Pat Thompson said. “This means the world to our community.”
The victory caps an undefeated season for Sweet Water (14-0), which has now won seven state titles since 2006 and 11 in school history, equaling the AHSAA small-school record of 11 football titles by Hazlewood, which is now closed after merging with Courtland to form R.A. Hubbard High School.
“We stepped up and made it happen,” Horton said.
Wadley (13-2) fell one win shy of winning its first state football championship, as eighth-grade linebacker Jaquez Wilkes tallied 12 tackles and a sack.
The 1A title game, as well as the remaining championship games set for Thursday and Friday, are being televised over the AHSAA TV Network and live-streamed over the NFHS Network. WOTM TV is producing the contests, and the AHSAA Radio Network is broadcasting all finals over its network of radio stations and the internet.
For more information concerning the broadcast feed in your area, go to the media link at www.ahsaa.com and you will find a link showing the network of cable stations in the WOTM TV network carrying the games and a link showing how to access the AHSAA Radio Network. Go to www.nfhsnetwork.com for information concerning the live-streaming.
Dunning ran 18 times for 184 yards and TD runs of 8 and 35 yards. Horton added 158 yards and a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter on 14 carries. Horton also caught a 55-yard touchdown pass from Thompson.
Thompson, the son of head coach Thompson, also threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Jake Shroeder, finishing 4-of-11 passing for 138 yards and two touchdowns. The Bulldogs’ offense rolled up 504 yards of total offense on 54 plays – an average of 10 yards per play. The ground game produced 366 yards.
Sweet Water’s head coach needed just four words to explain the Bulldogs’ offensive success: “Staying on our blocks,” he said.
Wadley kept the game close in the first half, thanks to two big plays – a 69-yard touchdown run by Jumall Buchanan on the game’s first offensive snap – and an 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Jacob Marable. Place-kicker Brock Baldridge also kicked a 29-yard field goal.
The Bulldogs led 20-16 at halftime, but the Sweet Water defense pitched a shutout in the second half. Wadley managed just 42 yards after intermission.
“We didn’t execute some things, but we played hard and played hard for four quarters,” Wadley coach Shenan Motley said. “We just came up a little bit short.”
Sweet Water pushed its lead to 27-16 on Dunning’s 8-yard TD run with 9:43 to play in the third quarter, and Horton capped a five-play, 73-yard drive with his 1-yard plunge with 8:20 remaining. Dunning’s 35-yard touchdown run capped the scoring with 2:45 remaining.
Buchanan led Wadley with 72 yards rushing on just two carries. He left the game in the first half with an injury, but he returned to spend most of his time on defense in the second half. Sweet Water limited Wadley to only 196 yards of total offense while also recovering a fumble and intercepting a pass.
In addition to Wilkes’ 12 tackles, Joseph Freeman had eight stops for Wadley, which rebounded from a 3-8 record in 2020 to win 13 games for the first time since the Bulldogs went 13-1 three straight years in 2003, 2004 and 2005.
Trace Luker had 10 tackles, to lead Sweet Water’s defense. Thompson and Jamarlin Albert had seven tackles each. Lashon Young also had an interception.
Finishing the season undefeated on the way to Sweet Water’s 11th state title was icing on the cake, said Coach Thompson. “I couldn’t be more proud of these guys. … Going 14-0 is the greatest thing these guys could accomplish.”