By Lee Davis
Mason Dillard admitted it: The senior placekicker was a little nervous as Mountain Brook lined up for what would prove to be the winning field goal against highly regarded Spain Park.
“Absolutely I was nervous,” Dillard said the next morning. “But I really shouldn’t have been. I had a great snapper and a great holder and a great line. All I had to do was kick the football.”
Trailing 21-20, the Spartans had driven to the Jaguar 6-yard line with only six seconds remaining when Dillard’s number was called last Friday.
Alex Pankey’s snap was perfect. So was Hamp Greene’s hold. That left it all up to Dillard and his experienced right leg. Dillard’s kick launched the ball straight down the middle and above the crossbar as Mountain Brook earned a titanic 23-21 upset on their rival’s home field.
“The second that my foot hit the ball I knew it was good,” he said. “It was the best kick I had all night. The (offensive) line did a great job of keeping their defense away from me. I really had the easiest job of all.”
While kicking the winning field goal on the game’s final play might be the dream of many placekickers, Dillard looked at his big moment from a different perspective.
“For me, it’s really all about winning the game,” he explained. “Any way we do it is fine with me. If it takes a field goal at the end, I’m more than happy to do that job.”
The win raised the Spartans record to 4-1 overall, 2-1 in Class 7A Region Three play. Dillard said that the victory over Spain Park made a statement about the status of the Mountain Brook program, which suffered through two consecutive 3-7 records before 2016.
“We are absolutely back to where Mountain Brook football is supposed to be,” he said. “All of the people who make the predictions said we couldn’t beat Spain Park. This win was so big for all of us. We’re a big family. We work together and help each other. If we keep working hard, there’s no telling what we can do together.”
Dillard’s winning kick was his third field goal of the night. The first two were from 38 and 31 yards, respectively. He also kicked two field goals in the Spartans’ win over Thompson the previous week.
Even game-winning kicks are nothing new for Dillard. His fourth quarter field goal gave his team a 17-16 triumph over Tuscaloosa County last season.
A tough day of practice during his junior high years led to Dillard’s interest in placekicking. “I was playing eighth-grade football and having to play linebacker and wide receiver,” he recalled. At linebacker I was going against (star Mountain Brook linebacker) Will Wetzler. Will just about destroyed me. I decided then that playing linebacker wasn’t for me, and I started practicing kicking.”
Dillard’s winning kick against Spain Park climaxed an intense battle from start to finish. The Jaguars took the lead in the opening period when Thomas Jordan caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from Hunter Howell.
Mountain Brook rallied with two field goals by Dillard and a pair of touchdowns. The first came on quarterback Hamp Sisson’s 1-yard run. The second came on a 24-yard strike from Sission to Sims Herron, putting the Spartans at 20-7 midway through the third quarter.
Spain Park rallied to take the lead on the strength of two touchdown runs by D’Arie Johnson. The go-ahead score came with only 3:33 remaining to play in the game.
A late Mountain Brook drive set the stage for Dillard’s heroics.
Sission completed 12 of 21 attempts for 101 yards while running for 110 yards on 19 carries. Herron caught three passes for 43 yards and Wilson Higgins caught four passes for 38 yards.
Larry Wooden led the Jaguars attack by rushing for 132 yards on 15 attempts.
“With a great holder and a great line, my job is easy,” Dillard reiterated.
Perhaps, but Spartan fans are convinced that Dillard’s long-ago decision not to play linebacker has worked out pretty well.