The Handley Tigers will play for a spot in the Class 4A state championship game next week after they blasted past Bibb County 35-21 in round three of the Class 4A state playoffs Friday in Roanoke.
Handley got a 79-yard touchdown run from Tae Meadows on its first play from scrimmage, then saw Evan Cofield connect with Quadae Lewis for a 67-yard passing touchdown as Handley built a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
The Tigers then kept Bibb County at arm's length the rest of the night in a game that didn't feel as close as the score might indicate. Every time Bibb County scored to cut into the Handley lead, the Tigers answered with a score on the very next possession.
The Handley offense was surgically efficient all night as the Tigers rolled up 505 yards of offense and averaged 11.7 yards per play.
Meadows was the centerpiece of that performance as he rushed for 258 yards and three touchdowns on just 21 carries. But he was not alone. Quarterback Evan Cofield completed six passes to five different receivers for 176 yards and two touchdowns.
Even what may have been Cofield's most dangerous decision turned up roses for Handley. The Tigers were deep in Bibb County territory in the closing seconds of the first half trying to pad a 14-7 lead when Cofield threw into traffic in the end zone. The ball was tipped by a Bibb County defender before falling directly into the hands of Handley's Jordan West for a 17-yard touchdown.
That gave Handley a 21-7 lead at the break and Bibb County never got any closer than 14 points behind from that point on.
Meadows added touchdown runs of 38 and 4 yards in the second half as Handley throttled down the offense and worked to preserve the lead.
Bibb County and future UCLA Bruin running back Deshun Murrell made the Handley defense work as Murrell ran for 175 yards and all three Choctaw touchdowns on 35 carries. Add in a 22-yard reception for Murrell and the senior accounted for 197 of Bibb County's 280 yards from scrimmage.
Handley now moves on to the state semifinals for the third time in the last 10 years. They will travel to Tuscaloosa to take on American Christian, which defeated Alabama Christian 38-7. American Christian is now 13-0 and spent the entire season ranked No. 1 in Class 4A.
Handley's previous two trips to the state semifinals – in 2011 and 2016 – both ultimately ended in state championships for the Tigers.
St. Paul's 27, Clay Central 7
The run is over for the two-time defending state champions in Class 5A after Central of Clay County fell to St. Paul's 27-7 Friday in Mobile. The Volunteers trailed 13-0 at halftime and never were able to mount the comeback that had been their calling card in close games all season.
It's the first playoff loss for Central under head coach Danny Horn, who led the Vols to back-to-back state titles in 2018 and 2019, his first two years with the team.
Central finishes its season with a record of 11-2.