AUBURN — Clinging to his most valuable player trophy, Tanner High linebacker Fred Rich waved to the crowd as he trotted off the field.
For Rich and company, a perfect day had come to an end — capping a magical perfect season.
Top-ranked Tanner made history Friday night at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium, beating No. 4 Washington County 28-14 in the Class 2A championship game to claim the program’s first state title.
“It’s a great feeling,” Tanner running back Hayden Stephens said. “Looking back on all the hard work we put in and to see it pay off like this, there’s nothing else like it.”
Rich and safety Greg Maclin, both committed to play football at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, and a roster that likely has a few others who will play in college, many in the Tanner community felt like this was the season the Rattlers would win a state crown.
Those instincts prove true, and a large Tanner crowd made the trek to Auburn for the championship moment. Behind the Class 6A championship game featuring Hoover and Opelika, Tanner and Washington County’s Class 2A game was the second-largest draw on the final day of the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s Super 6.
The game drew a larger crowd than the Class 4A championship between Oneonta and Mobile’s UMS-Wright, won by UMS-Wright 42-14.
When the clock ticked down to zero, Tanner players celebrated like champions. Players and cheerleaders mobbed AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese during the trophy presentation, hoisting the school’s newest championship hardware above their heads as a large crowd of fans cheered from the stands.
“This moment, you don’t want it to end,” Tanner defensive end Kyle Shoulders said. “This is the only way you want your season to end. Winning a championship — there isn’t a better feeling in the world.”
Tanner has come close to winning a football state title before. Since coach Laron White took over the program in 2003, the Rattlers have consistently made deep postseason runs. The Rattlers made their first state title game appearance last season, losing 34-14 to Elba.
But this season the Rattlers reached the pinnacle.
“It means so much to win this championship,” White said. “For 10 years, you try to run a program the right way, and this is the ultimate payoff. I’m so proud of these guys right now. They deserve this.”