How battle-tested St. James made history and advanced to AHSAA football semifinals

Jacob Shames
Montgomery Advertiser

Jimmy Perry turned to face his team and got straight to the point.

"We're in the semis!" the St. James football coach yelled, raising his arms as the Trojans cheered with him. "You made history tonight!"

Prior to Friday, St. James had only made the AHSAA quarterfinals twice, losing both times, and had never done so in 10 years under Perry. But if the weight of history was upon the Trojans' shoulders, it hardly showed in a 40-15 rout of Thomasville at Carlisle Field.

No. 7 St. James (11-2) will be at Mobile Christian (6-7) in next Friday's Class 3A semifinals with a trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium for the Super 7 on the line.

"We're not just satisfied with semifinals," said senior wide receiver Ethan Beard. "We want the whole thing."

That was evident in the offseason. With Power Five-offered quarterback KJ Jackson, record-setting running back Cosner Harrison and a veteran offensive line and receiving corps leading the way, expectations were high from the start. But Perry's coached plenty of talented teams at St. James — the Trojans went 9-1 during the regular season in 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2021, only to lose in the second round of the playoffs.

Perry scheduled 4A Handley and 5A Charles Henderson and Carroll with the aim of getting past that roadblock. Sure, his team might take its lumps against those bigger programs, but by November, it would be battle-tested.

St. James was competitive with both Handley and Charles Henderson, losing 48-35 and 26-14 respectively, and defeated Carroll 31-28. Against everyone else, the Trojans are 10-0 and have defeated opponents by an average of 26 points. No one in 3A has come within two touchdowns of them.

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"Charles Henderson just beat the No. 1 team in 5A (UMS-Wright)," Jackson said. "We played a really close game with them, we were tied at halftime. So obviously that puts a little bit of confidence in our hearts. We know we can play with anybody in the state."

Thomasville (9-4) gave St. James a run for its money in the first half before the Trojans responded with full force. After Justin McCreary scored to give the Tigers the lead midway through the second quarter, Jackson hit Beard for a 60-yard touchdown on St. James' very next play, and found him on a 41-yard score right before halftime. The junior finished the game 5-of-11 for 222 yards, with four of those going for touchdowns.

"He's the best quarterback in the state of Alabama," Perry said.

The St. James football team huddles after defeating Thomasville, 40-15, to advance to the AHSAA semifinals for the first time in history.

Harrison had just 25 yards on eight carries in the first half before sharp playcalling by offensive coordinator Neal Posey got him into a rhythm. Outside of an 87-yard bomb from Jackson to Ziggy Holloway, the third quarter was all Harrison. He totaled 91 yards on nine rushes, punching in a pair of touchdowns to help ice the game.

"They were slanting to our strength all night, they were a little bit short on the back end," Perry said. "We started going back to the short side and the ballgame changed right then."

Whether it's passing, rushing or a defense that gave up just 100 yards while the outcome was still in doubt, St. James proved against Thomasville that it's a team as complete as any in Alabama. But it's something else, according to players, that sets the Trojans apart and has allowed them to make history.

"We're so tight, we're all close," Jackson said. "We practice every day having fun, a lot of energy, and when there's no energy, someone's gonna come around and bring it up."

Added Harrison: "Everybody's playing for the guy next to him. The brotherhood our team has, it's special. ... We do everything together at school and out on the practice field, everybody's pushing each other. The blood, sweat and tears bonds us."

Jacob Shames can be reached by email at jshames@gannett.com, by phone at 334-201-9117 and on Twitter @Jacob_Shames.