By Rubin E. Grant
As one of the greatest championship games in the history of Alabama high school football unfolded, Parker Gargis and Colt Byrom found themselves on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.
Gargis was simply enjoying the moment, while Byrom was a nervous wreck as Homewood battled Benjamin Russell on a cold early December night at Legion Field for the Alabama High School Athletic Association 2000 Class 5A championship.
“I was 16 years old and I didn’t understand the magnitude of it,” said Gargis, who was a sophomore quarterback and safety on the team. “I was just playing and having fun.”
Byrom was a senior receiver and he understood how Gargis felt, but he had a completely different perspective.
“Of course, he felt that way,” Byrom said. “He was just a sophomore and didn’t know any better. For me it was my last high school game and I was super tense. When the defense was on the field, I could hardly watch. I was like, man, we’ve got to make that play.”
Despite their contrary emotions, Gargis and Byrom made a connection that lifted Homewood to a 41-34 victory in a five-overtime thriller, giving the Patriots their third state championship and avenging a season-opening 25-18 loss to the Wildcats. Both teams finished with 13-2 records.
Regulation had ended in a 10-10 tie after the Patriots overcame a 10-0 deficit in the fourth quarter, tying the score on Jeremy Schatz’s 33-yard field goal with 8:53 remaining.
The Patriot defense dominated throughout the night holding the Wildcats to only 3 first downs and 13 yards passing. Both Super Six records that still stand.
Chris McCauley, who forced a late fumble to set up the game-tying field goal, led the Patriot defense with nine tackles. Homewood defensive back Jonathan Herr had seven tackles and Bo Speer recorded seven stops, including two tackles for losses.
The Patriots had a chance to win in the final seconds, but Schatz’s 27-yard field goal attempt was blocked by the Wildcats’ Eric Brock, sending the game into overtime.
And then it turned epic.
The teams traded touchdowns in the first three overtimes and field goals in the fourth overtime, keeping the score tied 34-34.
In the fifth overtime, Homewood had the ball first and scored on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Gargis to Byrom.
“We ran a goal-line play that worked,” Byrom recalled. “It was a little wheel route with a rub on the defender. Parker made a great throw and luckily I was able to hold on and make the catch.”
Gargis was named the MVP after accounting for 227 yards total offense and five touchdowns.
The victory and title wasn’t secured until Herr batted down a pass in the end zone on a fourth-and-six play on Benjamin Russell’s possession, ending the marathon game and sending the Patriots into a frenzied celebration.
Andrew Reid, a sophomore offensive lineman, didn’t play in the game because of a season-ending knee injury midway through the campaign. He watched from the sideline and joined in jubilation.
“It was crazy,” Reid said. “It was the greatest high school football game of all time in the state of Alabama. I couldn’t play, but at the end of the day it didn’t matter. We got the win.
“It was freezing cold, which wasn’t good for my knee. I had just had surgery a few weeks earlier, but when Jonathan knocked down that pass, I ran out on the field. It was the first time I had tested my knee after the surgery and that’s the best my knee ever felt.”
Bob Newton, the Patriots’ head coach at the time, said fans in attendance were treated to a special event.
“I think it was worth the price of admission,” Newton said. “We gave them their money’s worth. It was an exciting game. In the years since, people tell stories about how they couldn’t leave.
“It was the longest game I had ever been involved in. The teams were matched up pretty evenly. We had played them earlier in the year and they beat us. Playing five overtimes was a pretty unique thing. We were fortunate to come out on the winning side.”
The Patriots held a 10-year recognition ceremony and reunion of the 2000 championship team during a game at Waldrop Stadium in 2010. A 20-year on-field reunion won’t happen this fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that doesn’t mean members of the team won’t get together to reminisce, especially since some of them still live in or near Homewood.
Byrom is vice president of Byrom Building Corp.; Reid is an agent with New York Life Insurance Co. in Birmingham; and Gargis is a senior contract administrator at Kinder Morgan Inc., an energy company.
“COVID will probably change what we will be able to do, but we’ll find a way for everybody to catch up,” said Byrom.
“It’s going to be kind of tough to do something at the stadium,” Reid said. “But in late November or early December, we’ll round everybody up, probably on a Saturday, and watch the game again and reminisce.”