Clear off a spot in the middle of the trophy case, St. James finally has an AHSAA blue map. The Trojans earned the championship hardware with a come-from-behind 45-28 Class 3A victory over perennial title contender Piedmont at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

"We are so proud of our school," said St. James head coach Jimmy Perry. "St. James has been around for 50 years, and it's the first championship we have won in football. This has been a three-year process. We have grown every year, and this is a result of hard work."

For Perry, who began his high school coaching career in 1979 and has been a head coach for 33 seasons, this is his first state championship. Perry also spent nine seasons in off-the-field roles in the Auburn football program.

"It only took me 43 years to get a championship," Perry said. "I've been blessed, and it's been a great journey with this program. This moment was the sweetest of them all."

St. James quarterback KJ Jackson played a big part in the special moment. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior threw five touchdown passes in the second half to help the Trojans erase a 20-10 halftime deficit. Overall, Jackson was 10 of 15 for 351 yards.

In the first half, though, it was the Jack Hayes show. The senior quarterback, who owns several AHSAA career records, ran for three touchdowns in the first half. He finished the game with 214 yards on 35 carries and four touchdowns. He only connected on 6-of-26 passing for 80 yards.

The game turned when Piedmont fumbled the second-half kickoff, with Cole Anderson recovering for St. James. The Trojans scored two plays later on a 21-yard pass from Jackson to Cole Houser. Two more Jackson touchdown passes built a 31-20 lead for St. James, but Hayes sliced into the deficit with a touchdown run and two-point conversion early in the fourth quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff, St. James fumbled. The Trojans recovered the football inside their own 10-yard line. At that point, Piedmont had all the momentum. That was erased on a 93-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Ethan Beard. Piedmont never recovered.

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