Since starting in 2016, the River City Pythons had never beaten their semipro football rival Huntsville Rockets.
But the fourth-year team from Decatur finally cleared that hurdle Saturday, 28-21 at Goldsmith Schiffman Field as the Rockets honored “Hometown Heroes.” The Rockets showed their appreciation to all military, police officers, firefighters and first responders.
Garrison Commander Col. Kelsey Smith did the opening coin toss. The Patriot Guard Riders presented the colors.
Both teams were ranked in the top 10 of the 14-member Gridiron Developmental Football League. Fourth-ranked Huntsville had beaten sixth-ranked River City earlier in the season, 32-19 in early June in Decatur. With Saturday’s win, the Pythons earned a split for the season atop the Impact South Division. The playoffs begin July 20.
“We’ll see them in the first round of the playoffs,” Rockets first-year coach Nick Benjamin said.
But the Pythons finally got to take home the trophy as champions of the Battle for North Alabama. The trophy had belonged to the Rockets for 2016, 2017 and 2018.
“Never beaten them before,” Derek Baker, the Pythons coach and owner, said. “Came close a couple of times but never gotten over the hump.”
He said the difference this time was, “Just defense. Defense and they never gave up. It was teamwork.”
Pythons quarterback Carl Davis Jr. completed 16-of-31 passes for 332 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions. His scoring tosses for River City (5-2) covered 37 yards to Boshe Watkins, 63 yards to Dustin Wood, 10 yards to Watkins and 56 yards to Tony Rudolph.
“I believed in my teammates,” Davis, who played at Mississippi Valley State University in 2010-14, said. “Gave trust to my O-line. Got a great coach. Had a lot on my mind coming into the game.”
Rockets quarterback Marvin Flowers threw three touchdown passes for Huntsville (5-2). His connections covered 52 yards to Chris Ungacta, 50 yards to Montarious Smith and 52 yards to Smith.
“We were just making mental mistakes,” Ungacta, who played at Hazel Green High School in 2011-14, said. “We weren’t picking up certain blocks. And we beat ourselves, honestly.”
The score was tied 6-6 at halftime. The Rockets led 14-12 after three quarters but were outscored 16-7 in the fourth. Huntsville last led 21-20 with 6:50 left when Jay Zdonek kicked the extra point after Smith’s 52-yard catch and run.
Rudolph made the decisive 56-yard catch and run for the Pythons with 1:47 left.
“We had our chances to win,” Benjamin said. “It was our self-inflicted wounds that gave us that loss.”