Linden gets second shot at ACA

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 18, 2005

On Oct. 8, American Christian paid to a visit to Linden and returned to Tuscaloosa with a 35-12 victory over the homestanding Patriots. Probably no one at the game–coaches, players, fans, referees, concession workers–would have guessed that six weeks later, Linden could return the favor.

But thanks to back-to-back playoff upsets over ninth-ranked Autaugaville and 9-2 Frisco City, Linden will have the opportunity to do just that. If no one expected Linden to have a return engagement with 1A Region 4’s “other” Patriots, however, only a handful more will expect Linden to turn around the 23-point deficit from the midseason game and upset the state’s second-ranked and highest scoring team.

Linden head coach Luther Davis and his team, however, are certainly amongst that handful.

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“The guys feel confident. After the last two games and the second half against A.L. Johnson [in which Linden recovered from a 9-0 halftime deficit to win 14-9], they’ve gotten a confidence boost,” Davis says. “They’ve had a better attitude, they’re more motivated. I’d say they’re ready to play.”

Besides the momentum of the last few games, the Patriots are also drawing hope from a rugged second-half performance in the Oct. 7 match-up and the distinction of being the only team this season to hold ACA under 40 points.

“We held them to six points in the second half,” Davis says. “That’s a big plus for us.”

Despite the Linden offense coming to life with new quarterback Jared Jackson under center and former QB Darnell Richardson snaring passes at receiver, the Patriots will need a better four-quarter defensive performance if they are to return from ACA with a win. Davis says Linden won’t be able to keep up in a shootout.

“They’re the best passing team in the state. We know we can’t compete passing the ball. We’ve got a good QB, but we don’t have their QB,” Davis says, referring to ACA’s record-setting All-State quarterback Chris Smelley. “We have to keep a lot of pressure on him, make him throw it before he wants to throw it. We can’t let him stay in the pocket. He’ll pick you to death.”

In the teams’ first match up, Smelley had a relatively subpar game percentage-wise, finishing only 12 of 25. But he made the 12 completions count, racking up 245 yards and four touchdowns.

The charge of getting pressure on Smelley will fall to defensive linemen like end Marcus Catlin and tackles Jerome Carr and Jonathan Tate. The ACA passing game will also put pressure on the Linden defensive backfield of Sean Richardson, Chris Martin, Gary Williams, and Darnell Richardson. The secondary, Davis says, is athletic enough to hold its won against ACA receivers like Del Howell and Jeffrey Ogren.

“We have to be tight on the receivers,” he says. “We think we can match up real good. They like to run certain routes, and we’ll try to deny them those routes.”

Of course, the easiest way to stop Smelley is to keep him on the sidelines. Jackson will have to be accurate with his short passing game while backs Martin, Maurice Tate, and Marvin Richardson will have to consistently move the pile while making sure they hang on to the football.

“The main thing is that we don’t turn the ball over,” Davis says. “Basically, we have to control the game. We’ve got to move the ball, get four or five yards a play, keep the chains moving.”

Davis guesses that the familiarity of the two teams with each other doesn’t necessarily equal an advantage for either team. The bottom line is that whichever team best plays its game will advance.

“ACA will have a big crowd, and that’ll be a plus for them, but I think our guys play well under pressure,” he says. “We know what they’re going to do and they know what we’re going to do. We’ve got another shot at them.”