Friday Night Rewind: Round one playoff lessons

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 9, 2005

After one week of playoff action, four area teams are still alive (hooray!) and four teams’ seasons are over (aw, shucks). Four teams is, incidentally, exactly how many we had at this point last season, and which four teams are almost identical: Demopolis, Sweet Water, Southern Academy, and a 1A Region 4 team coming off an upset (John Essex last year, Linden this year).

So what does that mean? Well, pretty simply, that there are some doggone good coaches with doggone good programs at DHS, Sweet Water, and Southern, and that there’s plenty of talent in 1A Region 4 outside of Sweet Water and American Christian.

But then, who didn’t know all that already? Here’s some things we actually learned last Friday:

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1. That if Demopolis quarterback Dontrell Miller can somehow keep playing at the eye-popping level he did against Handley Friday, DHS’s future opponents might want to think about petitioning the AHSAA for a 12th man on defense if they want to keep Demopolis out of the Super 6. Miller’s had several games this year where he’s been the best player on the field, but the senior simply dominated a good Handley team in a way I, for one, had not seen yet this year.

So, good for Demopolis. But it’s still a big “if” when it comes to whether Miller will play quite THAT well for four more games against increasingly difficult competition. So maybe the even better news is that Demopolis’s defense appears to be in top form as well. Handley didn’t have a first down until the score was already 28-0 and got more than a third of their yardage on one (questionably officiated) pass play.

2. That the aforementioned 1A Region 4 is as good as advertised. I heard the same thing from a number of coaches during my preseason tour: if you can make the playoffs out of Region 4, you’ll be ready for them. Behind ACA’s drubbing of Notasulga, Sweet Water’s dismissal of Maplesville, and Linden’s shocker over Autaugaville (the Eagles were the highest-ranked team in the state to fall), the region’s teams posted a 3-1 record against Region 3, the far-and-away second-best region in the “South” bracket. The results make a convincing argument that those coaches weren’t just blowing smoke: if Linden hadn’t already had to deal with the pressure of having already faced a do-or-die game against another solid team like A.L. Johnson, it’s unlikely they’d have pulled off the win over Autauagaville. If it wasn’t for Region 8 (home to R.A. Hubbard, Addison, Hackleburg, and Hazlewood, all of whom won their first-round playoff game) the debate about which region was the state’s strongest wouldn’t even be close.

3. That much to the rest of AISA Class A’s disappointment, Southern Acad. is now a dramatically better team than when they started the season. It’s not just that Southern crushed Chambers Acad. 60-0 as opposed to the 43-0 win earlier in the season; it’s the way Chambers gained all of 19 total yards this time around, the way Wallace Drury is so comfortable at tailback now (remember, he was slotted in at QB in the preseason) that no one in Class A or AA seems able to slow him down, the way Southern takes care of business every week. Lowndes is a solid team and will provide a stiff challenge, but if they wanted a win they maybe should have played the Cougars earlier in the season.

4. That John Essex won’t be anxious to face Loachapoka if they make the 2006 playoffs. Essex was eliminated for the second straight year by the Indians, who have outscored the Hornets by a combined 45-12 in the two meetings. The Hornets got more accomplished on offense against ‘Poka than in 2004, scoring twice, moving the ball more regularly, and starting the second half tied at 6. But in the end the Indians had too much up front and wore the gutsy-but-thin Essex lines down. The 33-12 loss shouldn’t take anything away from Essex’s second-ever playoff season, though. After all, Essex was good enough to win on the road over the same Linden team that just beat the no. 4 team in the state.

5. That 4A Region 4 isn’t quite yet up to par. Greensboro’s certainly on the way up–no shame in losing on the road to a solid team like Elmore Co.–but for the second straight year Demopolis has been the only Region 4 playoff team to survive the first round. And in neither year has Region 4 been matched up with the strongest “South” region, Region 1 (UMS-Wright, Thomasville, Andalusia). Jemison has now lost two consecutive first-round playoff games at home. There’s no real consequence to all this, but if Demopolis was upset early on last year (or is this year), some conspiracy theorists might blame the lack of tests during the regular season.

6. That Sweet Water, for all of their offensive might, will likely need to tighten up on defense if the Bulldogs are to defend their state title. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes here–I really, really don’t–and I’m certainly not knocking the amount of effort defensive coordinator Andro Williams or his guys are putting out. But after not allowing any more than 20 points in any game in their first seven (including Thomasville), Sweet Water has now given up 41 (to ACA), 21 (to Essex) and 27 (to Maplesville) in three of their last four. The good news? They’ve tightened up before: the Bulldog gave up 30 in a 15-point first-round win over Florala last year and didn’t allow more than 20 the rest of the way.