The St. Paul Saints travel to UMS Wright Friday night to renew its rivalry with the always tough Bulldogs. Both teams come into the game with 1 loss, finishing second in their regions and hosting first round playoff games next week.
If you leave UMS Wright and drive down Old Shell Road, you won’t go far before you reach St.Paul’s Episcopal School. UMS is one of the oldest schools in the state while St.Paul’s first started playing football in 1972. The two teams met for the first time in 1978. The rivalry is deadlocked at 19 wins a piece. Both teams have been strong in the state playoffs for years and have multiple state championships. Many of the players on each team know each other well. In a day and age when some schools want a cupcake or open date in the last game of the year before the playoffs, the two keep the traditional end of the year date. “It’s a good time for us to play St. Paul’s,” Terry Curtis of UMS Wright said. “I think it gets both teams ready for the postseason. There is usually a playoff atmosphere surrounding the game, and I think preparation is more intense than most regular-season games. It’s hard to blame anyone but yourself if your kids aren’t ready for the playoffs after playing a game like this.”
UMS Wright’s Terry Curtis and St. Paul’s Steve Mask are friends and competitors. They both retired from the public school system years ago and entered into coaching at their respective private schools. Curtis, a Murphy High School graduate, was head coach at Shaw and Murphy before arriving at UMS Wright in 1999. Mask graduated from Muscle Shoals High School in 1974 and was head coach at Bradshaw, Buckhorn and Colbert County. He came to St.Paul’s as an assistant coach with Jimmy Perry and took over as the head coach in 2012 when Perry returned to Montgomery. Both have colorful personalities and do a great job of leading their schools, teams and fan base each season.
St. Paul’s Swift Lyle has completed 57 percent of his passes for 1,116 yards and 13 touchdowns. UMS’ Will Chapman has completed 56 percent of his passes for 672 yards and eight touchdowns. Both are seniors who have provided much needed leadership as well. Both teams love to run the ball and with some stout defense on both ends of Old Shell Road, passing may be the key to opening up the running game.
Both teams are known for relentless defense. St. Paul’s has given up only 11.9 points per game, holding five teams to 7 points or less. UMS Wright has limited their opponents to 13.4 point per game. Both coaches believe that the ability to stop the other team from running the ball is the key to the game. “We’ve got to figure out a way to stop them this year,” Mask said. “We’ve had a hard time doing that lately. They’ve been able to control the ball and move it on us and kind of have their way. In this one, the offensive and defensive lines will decide the game. Curtis knows that the running game is the key. “We’ve got to stop the run. Period,” he said.
Both teams were really close to entering this game undefeated. UMS Wright lost at Andalusia in overtime 27-21 on September 15th. Vigor got the best of St. Paul’s 27-20 on October 20th.
Look for this one to be close. Big plays on defense could be a key as both offenses will use the running game to try and control the ball. The team that wins just may find that one big play in the passing game in the fourth quarter to get the ball in the end zone.