Nine smaller keys to victory

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 18, 2005

There are three area teams left in the 2005 playoffs. Two are narrow favorites, and the other (at least if you ask the state rankings) is a not-so-narrow underdog.

But what all three games have in common is that when they kickoff Friday night, all three could easily go either way. Coaches like to say there there’s no such thing as a sure win. But for teams like these, during the regular season, sometimes there just is. Those games are now, however, long behind us and in their place are games as unpredictable as .

So how could each of the three area teams make sure that the score tilts their way in the end? There’s obvious answers–if you’re Southern, you get Wallace Drury going; if you’re Demopolis, you get Dontrell Miller going; if you’re Linden, you try like crazy to keep Chris Smelley from getting going–but there’s some somewhat less obvious methods for each team, too. Here’s three keys for each team towards living to fight another week–or in the case of Southern, living to celebrate for a solid week.

Email newsletter signup


1. Get solid kicks and coverage from the punt and kickoff units. Field position will be critical for the Tiger defense. Thomasville isn’t going to look to pick up big chunks of yardage in the passing game–in their first-round victory over Trinity, fullback Shamus Hudson carried 34 times while quarterback Jake Overstreet threw only five times–so every extra first down Thomasville has to grind out on the ground is another chance for the outstanding Demopolis run defense to get a stop. Even a 10-yard bonus from a solid Rob Quinney punt or Shantrell Braxton kickoff will be huge.

2. Replace Dwiun White’s impact on the running game. Several of the most explosive and exciting plays of Demopolis’s season have come via giving White the ball on the end-around or an Urban Meyer-style reverse pitch. It’s hard enough for a defense to handle Demopolis’s ground game trying to focus on both Rock Jones and Dontrell Miller, but add in a third threat like White and it becomes exponentially more difficult. If Giorgio Griffin or another Tiger receiver can replicate that threat, Miller and Jones will become even more dangerous than they already are.

3. Wrap up Hudson. Tackling is one of those simple, fundamental things that don’t usually make it into a “Keys to the Game”-type article, but that makes yards and yards and yards of difference over the course of the game. The Demopolis defense struggled to bring the bruising Hudson down in the teams’ jamboree game back in August, but have made leaps and bounds since then. If they bring Hudson down earlier this time and limit his yards-after-contact, Thomasville will have a hard time sustaining drives and a harder time finding a big play.

Southern Acad.:

1. Don’t give Autauga too much confidence. It’s not necessary for Southern to blow out the Generals by halftime; the old “you don’t want to let them hang around” argument doesn’t really hold water here since the Cougars are the much more experienced and battle-tested team (Autauga did not play a 2A team this season; Southern, by way of contrast, defeated the likely 2A champion). If the game is one-score close entering the fourth quarter, the Cougars pull it out more often than not. But if Southern comes out flat and lets Autauga up by more than one touchdown, the combination of General confidence and a dollop of Cougar urgency could become a problem.

2. Keep Autauga completely one-dimensional. Neither team will want to throw the ball more than 10 times, but that doesn’t mean the passing game isn’t crucial. If the Cougars pick off an early Jesse Daily pass or come up with a big sack to take the Autauga passing game completely out of the playbook, it will be a heck of a lot easier to concentrate on shutting down “Oopie” Bennett. Bennett is Autauga’s Drury; they can’t win if he doesn’t have a huge game.

3. Avoid penalties. Against most of the teams Southern’s defeated, a false start or a holding call wouldn’t be a big deal–Drury could simply gain it all back and more on the next play. But Autauga’s defense is good enough that Southern may have to four-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust their way to at least a few first downs, and nothing makes a defensive stop against that kind of offense more likely than a penalty. As long as the Cougars stay flag-free, they should be able to move the chains with too much consistency for the Generals.


1. Get a score from special teams or defense. If the Linden-ACA game comes down to which team puts more points on the scoreboard with offense alone, Linden will have a hard time of things. Chris Smelley and Co. are, as the saying goes, going to get theirs. But ACA were twice one tackle away from giving up a touchdown to John Essex on the Hornets’ kickoff return, and in Christopher Martin (amongst others) the Patriots have the kind of returner who could take advantage if ACA shows that vulnerability again. Likewise, if Smelley does make a mistake, the Linden secondary is full of players capable of returning an interception the distance. For Linden to pull the game out, they may have to if given the chance.

2. Drop the mercury another few degrees. It’s a simple fact of football proven again and again by the Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams of the world: the cooler it gets, the harder it is to move the ball in the air. Cold hands, slick ball, the wind…it’s easy to see why. Whether it’s by rain dance or an army of rotating Lasko fans or buying Smelley a Heath bar Blizzard ahead of time, Linden needs things to get as cold as possible. For all ACA’s aerial brilliance, Linden is the more physical team and would have a terrific chance if the game devolves into a slugfest.

3. Sustain the emotion. Linden will likely play the first quarter, at least, buzzing from a well-earned chip on their shoulder. It’s doubtful a soul outside of Marengo County (and only a relative few inside) expect them to come away with a victory. Harnessing that energy and turning it into an early lead is, comparatively speaking, the easy part. It’s when ACA’s responds with a score or three that the Patriots will need to keep their heads up and their energy level running high. If Linden gets down for even a play or two, ACA is too good not to take advantage.