Six high schools, including two defending state champions and two 2014 semifinalists, will play Friday night and Saturday at Cramton Bowl as the 10th annual Champions Challenge officially kicks off the 2015 prep football season for the Alabama High School Athletic Association.
The head coaches and selected players gathered at the AHSAA Tuesday for the Champions Challenge press conference. Media on hand came in early for the annual AHSAA Media Day. Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange was on hand to welcome the media there to cover the press conference.
Three-time defending Class 3A state champion Madison Academy will be riding a 14-game winning streak into Friday night’s Champions Challenge opener against defending Class 4A state champion Leeds. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. The Mustangs lost to the Green Wave 27-24 in the season opener last season at Huntsville – a loss that snapped a 25-game winning streak.
Coach Eric Cohu’s team rebounded to win 14 in a row, beating Glencoe 31-28 on a last-second field goal in the Class 3A semifinals and then beat Dale County 70-34 in the 3A championship game at Auburn University’s Jordan-Hare Stadium last December.
Leeds won seven in a row to open the 2014 season, then lost to Dadeville 20-14, then Coach Keith Etheredge’s Green Wave reeled off seven more wins to claim their third state title since 2009 with a 30-0 triumph over Deshler in the 4A finals at Jordan-Hare.
Etheredge, 94-32, has seen his team compile a 66-7 on-the-field record over the last five years while Cohu’s team has gone 64-7 during that same stretch. Leeds posted four shutouts in five playoff wins last season, outscoring those opponents 206-14. Madison Academy scored 722 points on the season. Cohu has a 114-22 overall record including 76-10 with the Mustangs.
The Champions Challenge will continue on Saturday with a double-header featuring Class 3A semifinalists Glencoe and Gordo in the 5 p.m. game at Cramton Bowl and Class 6A Carver-Montgomery versus Class 7A Bob Jones in the final game at 7:30 p.m.
Gordo , 13-1 last year, lost on the final play of its semifinal game versus Dale County 32-28. The Green Wave of Coach Ryan Lolley has compiled a 20-5 record in his two seasons as head coach. Led by linebacker Ben Davis, Gordo touts a strong defensive team – reflective of the school’s storied history dating back to its first season in 1915. The Green Wave has a 555-348-32 record overall during that span. Glencoe, which fielded its first team in 1922, is 491-381-26 overall with Coach Lee Ozmint’s Yellow Jackets compiling a 45-16 record over the last five seasons.
Carver-Montgomery won the Class 6A, Region 2 title last season and finished 9-3 overall in 2014. The Wolverines have gone 38-12 in Coach Billy Gresham’s four seasons as head coach and are 46-16 over the last five seasons. Bob Jones, 8-3 in 2014, finished second in Class 7A, Region 8 behind region winner Gadsden City. The Patriots fell to Tuscaloosa County in the state playoffs last year 28-21.
Coach Kevin Rose, who joined the Bob Jones staff in 2008, has been head coach the last seven seasons compiling a 57-15 record which ties for second among 7A schools during that span. Only defending 7A champion Hoover has won more games in that span.
The Alabama High School Athletic Directors & Coaches Association (AHSADCA) hosts the series, which played its first Champions Challenge at Cramton Bowl in 2006.
Last year was the first year that schools have had 11 weeks to play 10 games and the first year for the new seven-classification system. Schools still have a choice whether to count any week one contest as a regular-season or jamboree contest. The Carver-Bob Jones and Gordo-Glencoe games will remain as exhibition games and will not count on either team's record since all four already have 10 regular-season games scheduled. The Leeds vs. Madison Academy clash will be a regular-season game. Both schools will have 10 weeks to play their remaining nine games.
All six schools are taking the playoff-type approach, however. “Our kids were really devastated with the season ended like it did last year,” Gordo’s Lolley said. “We are a hungry team. I am sure Glencoe felt the same way. We feel this is such a big honor to be able to kick off the season in the Champions Challenge on such a big stage.”
The 2015 Champions Challenge will be televised live and web-streamed by AHSAA TV partner Raycom Media. Stations in the network can be found at www.ahsaa.com. The AHSAA Radio Network will also broadcast all three games live. The AHSAA Radio Network affiliates can also be found at www.ahsaa.com. Live stats will also be available online at www.ahsaa.com.
The Champions Challenge schedule is:
Friday, August 21 – 7 p.m.: Madison Academy (14-1) vs. Leeds (14-1)
Saturday, August 22 – 5 p.m.: Glencoe (13-1) vs. Gordo (13-1)
Saturday, August 22 – 7:30 p.m.: Carver-Montgomery (9-3) vs. Bob Jones (8-3)
CHAMPIONS CHALLENGE HISTORY
Spanish Fort 42, Stanhope Elmore 14
Opelika 20, Carver-Montgomery 16
Dadeville 14, Piedmont 8
Benjamin Russell 28, Walker 14
Straughn 35, Walter Wellborn 26
Bob Jones 23, Enterprise 20
Spanish Fort 33, Muscle Shoals 22
Central of Clay County 25, Beauregard 13
McGill-Toolen 27, Northridge 0
Hueytown 36, Thomasville 27
Hamilton 38, Sweet Water 35
Daphne 24, Clay-Chalkville 21
Opelika 34, Greenville 6
Auburn 30, Spain Park 3
Jackson 30, Trinity 8
Prattville 37, Carver-Montgomery 0
T.R. Miller 27, Leeds 7
Hoover 32, Oxford 27
Prattville vs. Oxford, canceled due to inclement weather
Prattville 36, North Gwinnett, Ga. 3
Hoover 38, UMS-Wright 0
Clay-County 41, Addison 6