Friday Night Rewind: Who’ll take down ACA?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Time for the Friday Night Rewind, our weekly look back at all the weekend’s high school football action in the Black Belt:

ACA at the top of Region 4?

1A Region 4 was expected to be one of the most brutally tough regions in any AHSAA classification headed into the season, and thus far it has not disappointed. In Week 1 Sweet Water showed it could play 4A ball if it had to by playing Thomasville dead even every way but on the scoreboard. Linden shrugged off a 225-mile bus trip to defeat last season’s 2A runner-up Woodland in Woodland. A.L. Johnson has won its two games by a total of 58 points.

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But perhaps the most impressive victory of the young season in Region 4 was American Christian’s 48-2 thumping of John Essex last Friday. Sure, the Patriots had hung 62 on Coffeeville the week before but Alphus Shipman’s Hornets are a solid, athletic, well-coached team. Even they, however. weren’t able to do much to either stop All-State QB Chris Smelley and the clockwork-precise ACA offense or penetrate the stout Patriot D, which routinely broke through the Hornet line for big tackles-for-loss.

Coach Shipman would probably be the first to say that the Hornets didn’t play their best football Friday night, and Essex was stung by both poor officiating (more on that in a second) and a shoulder injury to top running back and defensive leader Chris Jones. But the 48-2 scoreline was still much more an indication of ACA’s ability than poor play on the part of the Hornets. Could Birmingham News High school football guru Ron Ingram have been correct when he forecast the Patriots to knock off Sweet Water on their way to the 1A championship?

Maybe, but the Bulldogs are only one of three Region 4 teams that will still have a lot to say about the Patriots’ chances, both of finishing undefeated or of running the playoff table. And all three of them showed why this last weekend:

1. Sweet Water drummed rebuilding Akron 84-6. Uh, yikes. Given the respective quality of the two teams, if ACA and Sweet Water are both still undefeated come their grudge match on October 14, that will shape up as the near-undisputed Game of the Year in our region. Smelley’s precision vs. Sweet Water’s power running…the shifty ACA running backs vs. safety Deon Williams and the Bulldogs’ cat-quick linebackers…it’s hard not to already start looking forward to it. But we shouldn’t because first, ACA will take on…

2. A.L. Johnson, who let in a late TD to make their 40-22 win over Carrollton look closer than it was. Johnson came closer than any other team (Sweet Water included) to ruining ACA’s undefeated 2004 regular season, taking the Patriots into double-overtime in Thomaston. That should give the Eagles plenty of confidence going into this Friday’s contest in Tuscaloosa, especially since the great majority of the Eagles’ starters–including dynamic QB Michael McGhee–were starting last year and the year before as well.

3. Linden let the Sunshine Tigers score the game’s first touchdown and then rattled off 40 unanswered points to cruise to a 40-6 victory. Linden hosts the Patriots the week before ACA travels to Sweet Water and if head coach Stephen Hooks lets his team look past the hometown Patriots, QB Darnell Richardson and the rest of the lightning-fast Linden skill position players will run right past them.

Suffice it to say, 48-2 over Essex or not, American Christian still has a long, long road ahead of them if they’re going to finish 2005 with their regular season winning streak intact.

Speaking of regular season winning streaks…

Demopolis cruising again

Don’t look now, but in beating Bibb Co. 28-6 Demopolis might have already passed its toughest test on its way to yet another undefeated regular season. It would be Tigers’ fourth consecutive perfect 10-0 since moving to 4A in 2002, and none of the teams standing in Demopolis’s way have looked overly impressive so far.

Dallas County and Livingston, up the next two Fridays, dropped their openers decisively to a 1A and 2A team (respectively) and have since had to rust for a week after Livingston could not get their field prepared in time for last Friday’s game between the two. Northridge is 5A, but returns only four starters from a 4-7 team and lost 42-0 last week. Southside-Selma is 0-2 after starting 2004 2-0, as are season-closers Greene County and Greenville. The GCHS Tigers have shown life under new coach William Morgan, but losses–even close ones–to Clarke County and Jemison mean that walking out of Demopolis with a road victory is, well, still pretty unlikely.

The biggest remaining hurdles for DHS might be the back-to-back regional games Oct. 7 and 14 against 2-0 Greensboro and 1-1 Jemison, but even those don’t exactly “loom” as of yet. The Raiders are making strides, having pushed their winning streak to five straight under Michael Reynolds, and will have home field. But home field still only earned them a six-point win against Southside; it will take a lot more against Demopolis. Jemison knocked off Greene County, but the week before lost to a Chilton County team that was 2-8 the year before.

Bottom line? With the Choctaws’ talented QB and pass-happy scheme behind them, coach Goodwin and his staff’s greatest remaining challenge may in fact be keeping his team focused and working hard to improve even when the on-field challenge that Friday looks less than daunting. The very good news? Goodwin and his staff faced the same dilemma last season and, obviously, didn’t have much trouble with it.

Officials still working out the kinks

Let’s put this politely: It looks like the officials are still in the early part of the season, too.

I want to be polite because I’m sure the things said to the officials at the time of some of their questionable calls have been, well, less polite. But some of the calls we’ve seen early in the 2005 season haven’t even been questionable; they’ve just been bad.

A first-half punt by American Christian was clearly left alone by the Essex returner–who never reached down and never let his feet get within a foot of the rolling football–but when the ACA players fell on it it suddenly became a live ball and ACA possession.

The week before Demopolis sacked Sumter County’s QB and forced an obvious fumble–the football was on the ground before the Wildcat QB had even been pulled off his feet, much less hit the ground. No matter; the whistle blew and a Demopolis player was mysteriously flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for, apparently, having picked up the ball and gotten tackled. (It should be noted that this was only one of several calls that could have very easily been called the other way, for either side…an early whistle in the first-quarter negated what could have been a Demopolis fumble).

Fortunately, neither of these games were close and it’s hard to argue they would have made a difference in the overall outcome. And having personally dealt with the relatively nonexistent pressure of officiating an elementary-age youth soccer game, I have a hard time criticizing any official for his decision on any close call in the high-stakes situation of high school football. But these weren’t close calls. While I don’t expect perfection from the officials, I think the coaches and players on these teams put in enough work and enough time that they can at least expect officials to get the easy ones right.


Dear Alabama Sports Writers Association: A little common sense in the 1A rankings, please. Sweet Water is the defending 1A champions. They returned 9 starters, including several All-State players, on both sides of the ball. I know they lost Week 1. But when that loss is to a legitimate contender for the 4A state title, I think a touch of leniency might be in order, rather than dropping them three spots to a ridiculous fourth. How ridiculous? New #1 R.A. Hubbard promptly lost to Addison in Week 2 21-13…The Marengo High Panthers might not have followed through on my prediction that they’d pull a Week 1 upset of John Essex, but they’re clearly one of the region’s most improved teams. They had Essex (a team that had run them off the field the year before) on the ropes Week 1 and in Week 2 smoked Coffeeville–a team that had beaten them in 2004–51-18. Coffeeville’s not a good team, but the Panthers didn’t have scorelines like that against anyone last season…A 28-8 loss isn’t encouraging at most programs, but most programs aren’t R.C. Hatch. The Bobcats should take heart in both the fact that their 20-point loss to Billingsley was a big step up from last year’s performance and that their Week 1 opponent (Hillcrest-Evergreen) scored nearly as many points against their Week 2 4A opponent (36) as they did vs. Hatch (46).