Friday Night Rewind: Predictably predictable

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 14, 2005

March Madness this ain’t.

Maybe a more appropriate nickname for the Black Belt’s 2005 high school football season so far would be “Formulaic Fall” or “September Sanity.” With the occasional rare exception, 2005 has gone the way, well, most observers would say it’s supposed to go.

Take the two regions that include most of the area’s AHSAA teams: 1A region 4 and 4A Region 4. A quick pre-season guess would have put Sweet Water and American Christian as the favorites in 1A Region 4, with A.L. Johnson, Linden, and John Essex fighting for playoff spots while Sunshine (with only one senior starter) a little behind and Carrollton and Akron playing catch-up. In 4A Region 4, the standings were expected by many to be Demopolis, Jemison, and Bibb Co. 1-2-3 with Greensboro and Southside battling for fourth and Greene County, Dallas County, and Livingston at the bottom.

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A look at the standings after two weeks shows that both of these regions look exactly that way already, even with only two weeks of regional play behind us. The total number of upsets in regional play over those two weeks? Precisely zero. Last week, A.L. Johnson wanted to show they were ready to play with ACA and Sweet Water; ACA blew them out by 37 points. Greensboro went to Chilton County last Friday hoping to show that they deserved to be included in the “top three” discussion in Region 4; Jemison hung 57 on them in a 29-point win. Greene County gave Jemison fits at home and looked to maybe poise themselves for a playoff run if they could beat Southside on the road; it didn’t happen. 53-28, Southside.

All of these teams have results they can be proud of and all of them still have time to pull off a critical upset later in the season. Three weeks in, though, there’s not one team out of the 19 in the entire Times coverage area that could be labeled a “surprise” team one way or the other. Linden’s been better than expected (and will get their shot at Sweet Water this week), but they were 6-1 last year, too, before their eligibility issues. Marengo’s knocked off two teams that beat them last year, but anyone who spent a few minutes at one of their practice could tell they didn’t look like a 2-8 team (their 2004 record). Teams like West Alabama Preparatory, Livingston, and Sunshine maybe haven’t been as competitive as some of their supporters would like, but their 0-3 records aren’t entirely a shock, either.

So are there going to be any surprises in 2005, or is the season going to end just as predictably as it began? It seems peculiar that in the world of high school football, where fortunes can change so dramatically from year to year based on the quality of even one solid class of players, that everything could go so according to form. But given that so many of the games have not only produced the expected winner but a blow-out scoreline that shows the gap that exists between the two teams–say, the one between up-and-coming Greensboro and already-there Jemison–we may see “September Sanity” give way to “Already-been-there October” and “November Normalcy.”

Other observations from Week 3:

It’s Raining Points…Hallelujah, it’s Raining Points

As noted above, the number of blowouts in the area have far outpaced the number of competitive games. Of the 16 games involving area teams last Friday, only three were decided by two scores or less: West Blocton 32 Sumter County 20, Marengo 20 J.F. Shields 12, and Sumter Academy 14 MMI 12.

Why that is isn’t too tough to figure out, since our area is a mix of dominant football powerhouses (Demopolis, Sweet Water, Southern Academy) and places where basketball will be first, second, and third priority for at least the foreseeable future (Greene County, the Sumter and Perry schools). And what happens when the two get together? Demopolis 61, Dallas County 6 would be one example.

So the fact that we have blowouts isn’t exactly surprising, but the margins some of them have reached still can’t help but raise the eyebrows. Sunshine and Akron have had the misfortune of each meeting Linden and Sweet Water in the last two weeks. Total combined score of those four games? Favorites 268, Underdogs 24. (The good news? Sunshine and Akron face each other this Thursday.)

On its face those kinds of margins can appear like a case of one team running up the score. But if they’re going to be ready for the big games down the road–like Southern Academy’s showdown with Shelby this week–Southern’s and Demopolis’s Sweet Waters’s and Linden’s each have to have the reps under game conditions. Sweet Water was up 42-0 after the first quarter against both Akron and Sunshine. But if the Bulldog starters left the game after that quarter, would they really be ready to play four of them against Linden this week? If DHS’s Dontrell Miller has only thrown two passes by the time a game like the one vs. Dallas County is decided, will he be ready to throw 20 if he has to come the playoffs?

Maybe, and there has to be a reasonable limit to the time a first-string spends on the field (sportsmanship and the injury risk demand that players like Miller or Sweet Water’s Deon Williams shouldn’t be running, for example, QB draws in the fourth quarter of a 60-point game). But I can’t blame coaches with their eyes on a state title for using the opportunities they have to come closer to that goal.

DHS’s versatility a strong point

Before Demopolis’s game with Dallas County, head coach Doug Goodwin said that he wasn’t bothered by Bibb Co.’s success in stopping tailback Rock Jones, since it meant they were just less successful in stopping his QB, Miller, from making his own plays with his legs.

“Not too many people out there can stop everything we can do,” he said. “It’s just a matter of adjusting.”

That point was driven home again against Dallas County when, after Jones’s big Week 1 and Miller’s big Week 2, in Week 3 it was a wide receiver who made the biggest offensive splash. Senior Dwiuan White caught two passes for touchdowns, including an 80-yard bomb, and scored a third on an 84-yard kickoff return.

White’s efforts earned him a mention in the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s weekly roll call of outstanding performances, posted each Monday on the AHSAA’s website. White made it three weeks out of three the AHSAA has recognized a Demopolis player, after Jones and Miller were each recognized for their efforts as well.

It’s that ability to adjust–the ability that, if a defense commits itself to taking away one aspect of the Tiger offense, that DHS’s coaching staff can (and will) have their team succeed just as well with a second option–that makes DHS so dangerous.


Kudos are in order for the following teams, who got off one schneid or another this week: Sumter Academy, which got both its first points and its first win of the season in its 14-12 victory over MMI; and Sumter County, which went from scoring zero points in the Wildcats’ first two games to putting 20 on the board in a closer-than-expected 32-20 loss to a good West Blocton team…Not that the news was all that good for SCHS. In addition to the Blocton loss, regional foe Northside has turned things around with startling suddenness, going from 0-10 in 2004 to a 2-0 start in regional play in 2005 after a 38-6 hammering of Francis Marion in Marion last Friday. Another good team in 3A Region 3 is just what the rebuilding Wildcats didn’t need…Things continue to go from bad to worse for West Alabama Prep’s struggling football team. The Titans and their staff continue to play and coach with more than enough heart, but the honest truth is that it’s an awfully hard to see a win on the horizon after two more WAP players went down with injuries in Friday’s 28-6 loss to East Memorial, almost certainly the weakest team on WAP’s schedule. The Titans, who only fielded 20 players on their opening-night roster, are now razor-thin. As noted before in this space, the Titan players should be commended for their effort in the face of such long odds, but more than ever it looks like those commendations may be the only reward they receive for their hard work.