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Friday Night Rewind: Halfway Home

If you can believe it, last Friday marked week 5 of 10 in the high school football regular season. Yikes. If the season went by any quicker, we’d have to time it with a stopwatch.

So what do we know now that the season has reached its halfway pole? Well, a lot of the stuff we thought we knew in the pre-season: That with coaches like Doug Goodwin and players like Dontrell Miller around, Demopolis isn’t going to miss too many beats no matter how many starters they lose. That Sweet Water and Southern Academy are still real, real good. That making it out of 1A Region 4 with your playoff hopes alive is only slightly less difficult than escaping from Alcatraz. That there’s a lot of work to be done at places like Akron and West Alabama Prep and Francis Marion, but that doesn’t mean that if that work is put in, things can’t get better: ask Marengo, playoff-bound after a 2-8 season, or John Essex, a season removed from their school’s first-ever playoff berth and poised to return again.

What did we not know pre-season that we do now? Well, that Sweet water’s offensive line would be quite so dominant: despite the loss of both starting tackles the Bulldogs have been opening holes Mr. Magoo could run through, even against the likes of Linden. That the Demopolis front seven would hold their opponents’ average yards-per-carry to a figure that really ought to be measured in inches rather than yards. That the Sumter Academy Eagles would rebound from scoring zero points their first two games to hanging 49 on last year’s West Region 3-seed Central to all but sew up a return to the AISA 1A playoffs.

Perhaps the most important thing we know about our area teams is that of the three that were expected to be state championship contenders–Demopolis, Sweet Water, and Southern Academy–none have shown signs of being anything less than that. As for the other contenders across the state, well, having seen nothing more than maybe a glimpse of highlights on “Friday Night Fever” we know less than we do about our own, obviously. But there’s still some conclusions to be drawn from the scoresheet.

For instance Deshler, last season’s 4A runner-up and a team ranked third in 4A as recently as last week, may not be ready for a return trip to the championship game. The Tigers lost last week to 3A Colbert County to drop their record to 3-2. No such slip-ups for top-ranked UMS-Wright, however, as the Bulldogs have looked worthy of their ranking by winning all five of their games by a minimum margin of 26 points. The top contender from the north may be the North Jackson Chiefs, fourth-ranked in the last ASWA poll and currently undefeated. However, the Chiefs defense could be suspect: they allowed 27 points to Madison and have yet to pitch a shut out. DHS’s Clarke County rivals Thomasville will likely have some say in the state title race as well: since surviving Sweet Water in Week 1 20-13 the Tigers have crushed their last four opponents on their way to 5-0

Speaking of the Thomasville-Sweet Water game, since that narrow loss the Bulldogs have had to be content with being voted third by the ASWA behind top-ranked Wadley and no. 2 American Christian. Is Wadley really on the same level as Sweet Water and ACA? The best people to ask might be Woodland, who lost to both Wadley and the same Linden team that Sweet Water buried two weekends back. To judge by Woodland’s results–a 27-7 road loss to Wadley and a 20-16 home loss to Linden–the difference between Wadley and Linden isn’t much more than a score or two, adjusted for home field. The difference between Sweet Water and Linden? 49 points. The guess here is that Wadley’s a very good team, but not a bona fide threat to either Sweet Water or ACA, both of whom have simply overwhelmed every other team on their level they’ve played.

And then there’s Southern Academy, perhaps the most prohibitive favorite of the three after notching a two-score victory over the consensus second-best AISA 1A team, Shelby. Autauga has likely emerged as the next-biggest threat after blowing out alleged East region contender Lowndes 32-7. But Southern drilled Autauga 27-0 in last year’s playoffs and it seems unlikely that gap would have narrowed that much in only a season.

So that’s some of the developments from the first five weeks. But what about just last weekend? Here’s a few stories that deserve some notice:

Sumter Eagles flying high

The biggest win of the weekend, almost unquestionably, was the aforementioned Sumter Academy Eagles’ road victory over Central Christian of Selma. With the win, first-year coach Bob Taylor is now, barring a shock-upset elsewhere in the AISA 1A’s West Region, only an Oct. 21 win over lightweight East Memorial from taking his alma mater back into the AISA playoffs. With wins over WAP, MMI, and Central already in the Eagles’ pockets, the win over EMCA would very likely give Sumter a 4-3 regional record and the #4 seed out of the 8-team West. (And how likely is that win? Central defeated the second-year program 62-6 earlier in the season.) Of course, “4-3” assumes Sumter would lose to Shelby, and judging by how quickly the Eagles seem to be improving, even that might be a bit too hasty. The best part for Eagles fans? Taylor’s gotten these results with only on senior, do-everything lineman Brandon Briggs, on Sumter’s roster. Give Taylor more time, more experienced players, and he might manage wins even bigger than this week’s.

Demopolis firing on (nearly) all cylinders

To any of you out there who were still expecting some big drop-off from last season for DHS, the Tigers would like to present the following scores: Demopolis at Northridge, Sept. 24, 2004: DHS 42, Northridge 0. Northridge at Demopolis, Sept. 23, 2005: DHS 54, Northridge 0.

Sure, Northridge was probably a better team a year ago. Sure, if you want to split hairs, most weeks the 2004 team was a touch more dominant against the same opponents. But who cares? 2004 vs. Dallas County, 69-0. 2005 vs. Dallas County, 62-6. To-may-to, to-mah-to. The bottom line is that there’s less and less reason to think DHS is anything but the same powerhouse this season they’ve been for years. Plus, there’s still room for improvement with this year’s team: the Tigers continue to be nagged by minor penalties and haven’t yet cured their peculiar case of the dropsies (four fumbles vs. Northridge, three of them lost).

I don’t point that out to criticize DHS’s performance. I point it out to show that as good as the Tigers are–and if you ask Northridge, they might be just as good as they were last season already–when they hit the post-season, it’s be a safe bet they’ll be even better than 54-0.

Getting off the mat

Three weeks ago, Sunshine and Livingston were a combined 0-6. Livingston had scored a total of zero points in their last two games, while Sunshine had allowed 116. But Cougar coach Scottie Jones and longtime Tiger head man Frank Watford rallied the troops and the two teams have now gone 4-0 in their last four. Sure, one win for each of them was against Akron, but the other two–Livingston’s rally from 22-7 down and Sunshine’s flattening of 3A Calhoun on the road–are games few would have blamed them for losing after the shock of their previous losses.

It’s a model the Greensboro Raiders and A.L. Johnson Eagles will try to follow beginning over the coming weeks. Greensboro started the year 2-0, including a huge regional victory over Southside-Selma, but has now lost three straight after last Friday’s 48-8 defeat at the hands of Thomasville. The good news for the Raiders is that in terms of the 4A Region 4 playoff chase, the loss to the Tigers could have been by a point or 100 to zip and it would still mean the same thing: doodly squat. If the Raiders can rebound and knock off Bibb Co. at home this week, they’ll be in the proverbial catbird seat with Dallas County and Livingston closing out their regional schedule.

The A.L. Johnson Eagles, meanwhile, dropped back-to-back games against ACA and John Essex and produced a listless performance against Fruitdale last Friday, winning 20-6 at home over a team they had blown away 58-7 in 2004. (Note: if there were injuries or other peculiar circumstances involved, consider this an apology in advance). Things aren’t going to get any easier for the Eagles with Sweet Water on this week’s docket. There’s good news though: with Mose Jones’ coaching, the kind of talent the Eagles possess, and an on-paper favorable schedule between the Sweet Water game and the huge home tilt with Linden in Week 9, it’s still more than possible for the Eagles to right the ship and surge into the playoffs.