By Josh Bean | For the AHSAA
TUSCALOOSA – Score one for throwback football.
Handley (12-1) used a tried-and-true football formula – run the ball and control the clock – to grind out a 35-20 victory over Gordo in today’s Class 4A championship game at Tuscaloosa’s Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Senior running back and game MVP Tae Meadows logged 38 carries for 264 yards and four touchdowns, including the game-clinching 1-yard TD run with 1:35 to go. He scored TD runs of 1, 1, 23 and 1 yards.
Handley, coached by Larry Strain, won its third state championship, all since 2011. Gordo (13-2), coached by Ryan Lolley, fell one victory shy of winning its first state title since 2001.
“It came down to a decision of who was going to press harder and be the man,” Strain said. “I felt like our kids stepped up.”
Handley finished with a dominating edge in time of possession, holding the ball for 31:12 to 16:48 for the Green Wave. The strategy kept the ball away from Gordo junior and major college prospect Tanner Bailey.
The Tigers relied on its rugged offensive line with a run-first mentality that produced 340 rushing yards and just 44 through the air. Handley’s defense also shut out Gordo in the second half.
“Our defense played great,” said Handley senior Dylan Brooks, a Tennessee commit who finished with 3½ tackles, 1½ sacks and 2½ tackles for loss today.
Handley built a 21-20 halftime lead.
Gordo’s Bailey opened the scored with a 1-yard run with 1:23 to go in the first quarter, capping a nine-play, 69-yard drive, but a bad snap on the extra point left the score 6-0.
Handley answered with Meadows’ 1-yard run, recovered its second onside kick of the day, and added Ayden Robertson’s 1-yard run for a 14-6 lead with 8:01 to go in the second quarter.
Bailey then hooked up with Hunter Oglen for a 27-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 14-12 after the 2-point pass failed with 6:57 remaining the half.
Meadows scored his second TD on a 2-yard run with 2:52 to go before intermission, capping a 10-play, 69-yard drive to make it 21-12.
Bailey then engineered a seven-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Ben Capps with one second to go before halftime. Bailey’s 2-point pass to Oglen made it 21-20 at the break.
After the teams played to a stalemate in the third quarter, Meadows scored on a 23-yard run with 11:15 to go for a 28-20 lead. He added the game-clinching 1-yarder with 1:35 to go.
“Tae is a good back, man. He’s as good as advertised,” Lolley said. “And I think if you asked him, he’d say that offensive line is really good, too.”
For Gordo, Bailey finished 16-of-36 passing for 222 yards and two touchdowns. J.T. Billups caught six passes for 75 yards, while Capps added four catches for 64 yards and a touchdown and added 8½ tackles on defense.
Gordo’s Tyrell Mayberry led the Green Wave defense with 11 tackles and a sack.
For Handley, quarterback Evan Cofield ran 17 times for 75 yards and completed 4-for-11 passes for 35 yards. Brooks caught a 30-yard pass and also returned a kickoff 18 yards.
Quadae Lewis led the defense with six tackles.
“Handley has a great team,” Lolley said. “Coach Strain does a great job with his guys. Those guys are very resilient. … It didn’t bounce our way.”
AHSAA SUPER 7 STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS
At Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Dec. 2-3-4
Wednesday, Dec. 2
CLASS 7A Finals
Thompson (14-0) 29, Auburn (11-2) 28
Thursday, Dec. 3
CLASS 3A Finals
Fyffe (15-0) 21, Montgomery Catholic (12-3) 16
CLASS 1A Finals
Linden (15-0) 32, Pickens County (11-4) 8
CLASS 5A Finals
St. Paul’s Episcopal (15-0) 29, Pleasant Grove (11-3) 21
Friday, Dec. 4
CLASS 4A Finals
Handley (12-1) 35, Gordo (13-2) 20
CLASS 2A Finals
Abbeville (12-1) vs. Mars Hill Bible (12-2), 2:45 p.m.
CLASS 6A Finals
Spanish Fort (11-3) vs. Pinson Valley (11-2), 7:30 p.m.
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