TUSCALOOSA — In a showdown of two of the perennial powerhouses in Class 2A, No. 1 Tanner battled back to defeat No. 3 Washington County, 21-13, in Friday’s Super Six football championship at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The Rattlers (13-1) completed their fifth consecutive comeback of the postseason to claim its second straight state title behind 159 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries by the game’s Most Valuable Player, senior running back Hayden Stephens, and a command performance by an offensive line with three seniors and two sophomores.
“Last year’s team was kind of stacked,” Stephens said when asked about a Tanner squad that finished 14-0 and had four players who signed college football scholarships. “This year we had to work as hard as we could for each win. It means a lot because we had to work a lot harder for this one than we did last year.”
Amid near-freezing rain, Stephens shot through a gaping hole up the middle on a 45-yard scamper in the first quarter to tie the game at 7-7 before Tanner trailed again at halftime, 13-7.
On the first drive of the third quarter, Stephens produced the go-ahead touchdown when he lined up in his favorite alignment, the deep I-formation. The second score by the 5-foot-8-inch, 180-pound back capped a 13-play, 67-yard drive with a 1-yard run to put Tanner on top, 14-13, and seized the momentum away from the Bulldogs.
The Rattlers’ sophomore power runner, Ty Mayberry, and quarterback JonJon Fletcher drew the Bulldogs’ defense to the middle of the line, allowing Stephens to veer left and trot untouched into the end zone.
The Washington County defensive coaches said they had game-planned extensively for Stephens, who finished the year with 2,142 yards and 30 total touchdowns, including 28 rushing.
“He is a great football player — some people look at him and say he’s not overly big or overly fast, but he’s very quick,” said Washington County coach Chris Wilson, whose team finished 13-2. “He’s really good at what he does and reads the whole field.”