Tigers to start 2nd title run vs. Handley?

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 4, 2005

“Intense” isn’t the first word that comes to mind when describing the second halves, or occasionally even the second quarters, of the great majority of Demopolis’s wins in their 40-game regular season winning streak. More often than not, the Tigers’ third and fourth quarters have been filled with second-stringers, a running clock, and sizable margins.

But playoff football, which Demopolis will kick off this Friday at home against Region 3 fourth-place Handley Tigers, can be a very different story. It is “intense.” But Doug Goodwin, the Tigers’ head coach, says he’s not worried about his players being able to adjust to the tougher opposition, tighter games, and heavier pressure the playoffs bring.

“We try to get our guys to always play at a high level, and I think you can see that in some of our scores,” Goodwin says. “I worry more about us playing down to the level of our opponent. If you’re playing against somebody that you know you’re more than likely going to beat, you can get lackadaisical. We have to guard against that more than having to pick our level up when we play against someone good.”

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That’s just one theoretical hurdle Goodwin says he’s not concerning himself with as Demopolis gears up for what will hopefully be a second consecutive run to the state championship. Another is the Tigers’ relative lack of playoff experience, as very few of the DHS starters were starting during the 2004 run.

“They’ve got about as much playoff experience as anyone else. Our core group of players were playing last year,” Goodwin says. “I just know if we play well and we’re the better team we’ll win and if we play poorly we’ll lose.”

The Tigers have been the better team in the regular season for a long, long time now. Last week’s 41-6 win over Greeneville capped off Demopolis’s fourth consecutive perfect regular season. Goodwin says with the focus on the current season and making a second trip to Birmingham, the streak and the four-year accomplishments haven’t been topics of conversation around the team (“We never mentioned it,” he says). But the fact remains that this year’s senior class will graduate without having ever lost a regular season game and with an overall record of 52-2. And both losses, Goodwin points out, came in the state semifinals to the eventual state titlist.

“There may never be a class with as many wins as this class. It’s hard enough to do it once, but to do it four times?” Goodwin says. “It’s something I’m sure they’ll look back on as adults and be very proud of. I’m just pleased to be a part of it.”

Of course, as much as the seniors have accomplished, a loss to Handley would end things on a decidedly sour note. The visiting Tigers have the talent, Goodwin says, to make it happen if Demopolis isn’t on top of their game.

“Traditionally, they’ve been pretty good. They’ve been in the playoffs many times in the last few years,” he says. “They’re pretty big. Defensively, they like to stunt a lot, try to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback. Their kicking game is solid … I expect they’ll come over and play us pretty good.”

Handley prefers to rely on their size, moving the ball on the ground with running backs Marquinton Phillips and Chris Reynolds. Quarterback Chris Sears handles the punting and kicking duties as well.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, a 4-0 start gave way to a 2-4 finish that hit its low point last week with a 34-0 loss to 2A power Clay County. Goodwin says that doesn’t necessarily mean that Handley’s ready to quit, though.

“That could be good or bad. They could be fired up to rebound from that, or they could just say ‘Well, same-ol’-same-ol,’here we go.’ But the potential’s there,” he says. “We have to go out there and do what we always do, try to win it one play at a time.”

The “one play at a time” attitude has worked wonders for Demopolis as the Tigers have piled up some eye-popping stats one play at a time. DHS’s average margin of victory in 2005 has been 42.5 points; their average rushing margin, 225.7 yards a game; their opponents’ average rush, 1.3 yards to DHS’s 7.0. DHS has picked off 22 passes to their opponents’ five and outscored their opponents 172-0 in the second quarter.

On an individual level, senior quarterback Dontrell Miller has totaled 2,386 total yards passing and rushing. Rock Jones has led the team with 896 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns, averaging 7.2 yards a carry. Ezell Braxton has racked up 10.5 sacks, Jacob Smelley 93 tackles, Dwiuan White 15 TDs rushing, receiving, and punt returning.

But none of those stats and none of the Tigers’ 25 overall consecutive wins have come about by accident, Goodwin points out.

“Right now a lot of it’s taken for granted by people both inside the program and more outside the program,” he says..” I talk to people and they say ‘You’ve got an easy game this week.’ But anybody could beat you. It’s proven every week. There are upsets all over, at every level. To think it’s been easy is a misconception.”