Evangel gets rings to celebrate championship season

By SETH HAGAN | Special to the Reporter

ALABASTER – Evangel Christian School’s football program officially doesn’t have any ring fingers left. This week the team received their national championship rings as a reward for a tough, inspiring season.

The Lightning became the first team to win the NHSA eight-man football national championship three years in a row after they escaped an early 13-0 to rout rival Ezekiel Academy 40-13 to avenge a 65-34 loss on Oct. 2 to the Knights.

Head Coach Tim Smith said that loss was a major turning point in the season for his team.

“The loss against Ezekiel was a wake-up call for all of us,” he said. “Then, we lost the tiebreaker by one point and didn’t get to play for a state championship so we rallied the kids around defending the national championship and they bought in.”

Repeating as champion a second time didn’t always seem likely, however. Evangel lost several key players who had won the previous two titles in the 2020 senior class, and Smith recalled the skepticism that his new group could step up to the challenge, especially with an offseason unlike any other.

“We played our best football of the season in Panama City. I remember in the season when the season ended the year before and we lost 18 players, not many gave us a chance. We used that all season as motivation,” Smith said. “There was so much excitement around the year, it was unbelievable. I think some of that was people just wanted some normalcy back in their lives.”

Evangel’s identity changed down the stretch as the defense allowed a combined 26 points in the final three games of the season, including a 42-13 win over the Tennessee Heat in the tournament semifinals.

“God brought a special group together this year. They put in the work and He blessed it. Our country and community have been through so much that if a little Friday night high school football can help heal and let us enjoy a few hours with others, we’ll do it. And that’s what happened this year,“ Smith said. “The rings are a reward for all of their hard work. Great group of kids that played for and loved each other and Evangel.”