Tonight’s showdown in between the No. 1 ranked team in AHSAA, 1A and the No. 1 team in AHSAA, 2A has steadily drawn buzz throughout the season. Heralded by many as the game of the week in Alabama, the match-up pits the reigning state champions from each of the state’s smallest class against one another.
“We’re not big rivals,” Sweet Water head coach Stacy Luker said of the relationship between the two schools. “It’s just got a big game atmosphere to it.”
Luker is hopeful that big game atmosphere will provide an ample test for his team, which just completed its trouncing of Region 1 last week with a blowout win over J.U. Blacksher.
“Our region didn’t really challenge us. We haven’t had a check-up game since Thomasville,” Luker said. “I really don’t know where we are (as a team).”
“We feel like it will because it will definitely have a playoff feel to it,” Luker said of his belief the game will help prepare his team for the postseason. “The kids haven’t said a whole lot. They just sense the urgency of the big game, the sense there’s a monster coming in here that we’ve got to play.”
Although his phrasing was unintentional, the word choice is fitting for a Halloween night clash Luker believes will test his team more than any other it has faced thus far this season.
“Defensively, they’re probably the best team we’ve been on the field with,” Luker said of a Bear squad known for its offensive firepower. In the previous two meetings between the teams, Leroy has held the vaunted Bulldog ground game to less than 200 yards rushing.
“It’s going to be quite a challenge for us on both sides of the ball,” Luker said.
The Bears’ bread and butter is its aerial assault. Their tendency to spread the field will force the Bulldog defense into some different looks.
“They force you to do some different things,” Luker said. “They’ve been in this offense three straight years and I don’t konw that there’s a lot they haven’t seen. They are definitely going to force us to do some different things.”
Luker said one of his team’s best plans will be to play defense with its offense and keep Leroy quarterback Clint Moseley grounded.
“We need to play keep away,” Luker said.
The game, which marks the end of the regular season for both squads, could scarcely come at a better time for the Bulldogs.
“It’s been sort of an emotional rollercoaster,” Luker said of the struggles his team has had getting itself psyched up for a largely uninspiring region schedule. “Games like this are going to help us. I hope they’re going to answer some questions for us.”
Luker, whose team will host Geneva County in round one of the playoffs one week from tonight, said that his team still has aspects of its game that require attention.
“We just need to get better at what we’re doing. There are things we need to address,” he said. “This is one of the most penalized teams we’ve had in years.”