Six secondary standouts from football’s week that was:
1. Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama (NCAA) — I have to wonder how many NCAA Division-1 teams the Crimson Tide could beat if their offenses didn’t score at all. Alabama’s defense and special teams are so potent, you could pair them with South Carolina’s offense (the worst in the SEC) and they’d probably still be playing for a national championship next month.
After surprisingly falling behind 7-0 to Florida in Saturday’s SEC title game, ‘Bama responded with a field goal, then took the lead on Fitzpatrick’s interception and 44-yard return for a touchdown. Soon after that, they extended the lead with a blocked punt return for another touchdown and cruised to a 54-16 victory.
Fitzpatrick, a sophomore, had one of the Tide’s three picks against the Gators in the first half. He also had four tackles. Now Alabama moves on to the national championship playoff as the undefeated No. 1 seed.
2. Eric Berry, SS, Chiefs (NFL) — In his first full season back in the NFL after beating cancer, Berry was voted an All-Pro and the league’s Comeback Player of the Year. Now he’s putting together a solid case for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Playing his first game as a pro in his Atlanta hometown on Sunday, Berry had a 37-yard pick-six in the first half, then melted the hearts of everyone watching by giving the ball to his mother in the stands.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Falcons took a one-point lead on a Matt Ryan TD pass and decided to go for a two-point conversion to make it a three-point game. Berry picked off Ryan on the conversion attempt and ran it back 99 yards for a two-point Kansas City score, giving the Chiefs a 29-28 victory.
“I shed a few tears before the game, I shed a few tears during the game and I shed a few after,” Berry said. “It was just a lot of emotions. I tried to contain them and let it show through my play.”
3. Taylor Rapp, S, Washington (NCAA) — Playing as if he had something to prove, Rapp turned in his best game for the Huskies just a few days after being named Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year.
On the first play from scrimmage in the second half of Friday’s Pac-12 championship game, Rapp intercepted a pass by Colorado QB Sefo Liufau and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown. On the Buffaloes’ next possession, Rapp got another interception to set up a UW field goal. The Huskies went on to win 41-10 and earned the No. 4 seed in the national championship playoff.
4. Bradley Roby, CB, Broncos (NFL) — It should tell you something about the current state of the Jacksonville Jaguars that QB Blake Bortles appears in this column way more frequently than any of the defensive backs on his team.
During Sunday’s 20-10 loss to the Broncos, Bortles threw an interception that Roby returned 51 yards for a touchdown, a huge play for Denver’s defense on a day when they needed to carry rookie starting QB Paxton Lynch.
Roby’s TD was the 11th pick-six thrown by Bortles in his three-year pro career. He now has more pick-sixes (11) than he has victories as a starting QB (10).
5. Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson (NCAA) — The Tigers needed to win Saturday’s ACC championship game to secure their spot in the national title playoff. Clinging to a seven-point lead over Virginia Tech late in the fourth quarter, the Tigers needed to keep the Hokies out of the end zone to secure that victory.
With the Hokies knocking on the red zone and facing 4th-and-6, All-ACC senior Tankersley made a diving interception to seal Clemson’s 42-35 victory. That was his second pick of the night. His first INT was a sideline toe-tap number that was more impressive than the second.
Tankersley finished the game with four tackles, two picks and one pass breakup. Clemson is the No. 2 seed in the playoff.
6. Greg Oliver, CB, Bishop Gorman (High School) — Widely considered the No. 1 high school team in the country, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) won its eighth straight Nevada state championship on Saturday with an 84-8 demolition of Liberty HS (Henderson), ranked No. 21 in the nation by USA Today.
Bishop Gorman has big-time recruits all over the field: future Ohio State QB Tate Martell, Cal-Berkeley running back commit Biaggio Ali-Walsh, and Arkansas-bound receiver Maleek Barkley among them.
The marquee name in the Gaels’ defensive backfield is undeclared senior safety Bubba Bolden. But the star of the secondary in the state title game was Oliver, a first-year starter as a sophomore.
Oliver had two interceptions against Liberty, both in the first half, as Bishop Gorman solidified what will surely be their third straight USA Today Super 25 national title.