ST. AMANT — St. Amant defensive lineman Johnny Johnson III needed this. His family did, too.
Early Monday morning, five days before St. Amant’s 42-6 win against West Jefferson on Friday at The Pit, Johnson’s father, also Johnny, died after a years-long battle with cancer, originally beginning as colon cancer, Johnson said.
With St. Amant leading 21-0 in the second quarter, Johnson pressured West Jefferson quarterback Wallace Lucas Jr., deflected an outgoing pass, intercepted it and returned his all-in-one play for a 60-yard touchdown.
“I know I had to make a big play just for him,” Johnson said. “Just to make my mom smile on that sideline, that was the world.”
Johnson’s interception sealed St. Amant’s (3-0) third win this season. Including their 41-9 win last week versus Helen Cox, St. Amant has outscored its two opponents 83-15 in as many games.
“And he blocked a kick, had several sacks and tackles for losses,” said St. Amant coach David Oliver. “I was extremely proud of him. You know, his family has been a super family. He’s a super kid … He did him proud. He left a mark tonight.”
Supported by three passing touchdowns via quarterback Halen Miller, who finished with 11 completions in 22 attempts for 171 yards, running back Cade Nelson’s 6-yard rushing score and KJ Franklin’s 15-yard touchdown on the ground, St. Amant’s offense did more than enough to secure their third win, including more than 150 yards rushing.
However, centered around Johnson, Friday’s win was about their defense.
“We had popped a couple big plays against an aggressive pass defense,” Oliver said. “I’ll tell you, our defense was just playing superb. They were really aggressive up front. They controlled the tempo of the game. It’s nice to ease into your offense — we’re breaking in a lot of new players — with a stout defense like that.”
Miller’s connected with five different receivers on Friday. All three of his touchdown passes were to a new pair of hands, too, including a 47-yard strike to tailback KJ Franklin, a 17-yard dart to receiver Grant Alexander and a 66-yard score to wideout Collier Ricks.
Beyond Miller’s arm, Franklin and Nelson combined for more than 120 yards rushing.
The Gators held West Jefferson’s athletic spread offense to 260 total yards and only one touchdown: a 10-yard pass from quarterback Wallace Lucas Jr. to receiver Malik Hill late in the fourth quarter.
A win, dedicated to his father, was exactly the remedy Johnson said he needed.
“He’s going to be my story,” Johnson said. “I knew I had to perform for him.”
That he did.
“We’re going to make it, baby,” Johnson’s mother, Kennitra, said as she embraced her star defensive lineman after Friday’s win.