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Special teams important in DHS opener

Rick Boone went over the top and connected with Brian Taylor for 26 yards on the opening play from scrimmage against Wetumpka in 2008. The drive was short lived as the ball was turned over that same play.

The play was a perfect microcosm of the back-and-forth affair that would ensue. Demopolis got its only touchdown of the game from Shelby Speegle and carried a 7-6 lead into the waning minutes of the ball game before Wetumpka blocked a punt to set itself up at the DHS six. The Indians punched the ball into the end zone on the next play to take the lead, going on to win the contest 12-7.

As Demopolis looks to its season opener with Wetumpka Friday night, Boone, Taylor and Speegle are noticeably absent. As are Morgan LeCroy and Trey Oates, who anchored the Tigers’ offensive line last season.

Jacob Kerby had 93 yards rushing against Wetumpka to lead the ground game. He won’t be a part of the Tigers’ game plan this Friday night. Nor will Greg Irvin, whose 9.5 tackles against the Indians was a team high.

While the cast has changed, the story remains much the same for Demopolis, who will effectively Christen newly-constructed Tiger Stadium with the game.

“We know we’re going to get a high quality, very well-coached football team that is coming in here Friday to challenge us in every aspect of the game,” Demopolis head coach Tom Causey said.

Like Demopolis, the Indians have seen some turnover in their on-field personnel. Still, Causey expects Wetumpka to offer the same threat it utilized to best the Tigers a year ago.

“Extreme speed,” Causey said. “They’ve got speed at every position on the defense.”

In addition to the Indians’ notable defensive speed, WHS returns experience among its offensive group.

“They’ve got a quarterback back who is in his second year as a starter,” Causey said. “They’re big up front. There’s no way you can simulate it.”

Wetumpka is the first of a string of five consecutive games Causey believes will test the Tigers in every way. That run of contests also includes Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa and Fayette County as well as region opponents Chilton County and Carver.

“I think in our first five games, we see that level of play every week,” Causey said. “The end of the season is where you’ll see it (pay off).”

During that stretch last season, Demopolis compiled a 1-4 record before embarking on a seven-game win streak that took it to the cusp of a semi-final playoff berth. The Tigers, undoubtedly, would like to get out of the gate much quicker this campaign. Doing so will require that the Tigers avoid the mistakes they made against Wetumpka in their last meeting. The most glaring errors came in the kicking game.

“We’re not (better on special teams),” Causey said. “I think we can be, but we’re not right now. We’ve got new long snappers, new punters, new kickers.”

As much as the Tigers were able to get some clarity regarding offense and defense in last Friday night’s Jamboree against Linden and Central-Tuscaloosa, special teams remain clouded as the contests did not employ a live ball in the kicking game.

“It’s a mystery for both teams because (Wetumpka hasn’t) done it full speed yet either,” Causey said.

Aside from being more consistent on special teams, the Tigers must also avoid the turnover problems that plagued them in the 2008 season opener.

“We coach ball security everyday,” Causey said.

The Tigers showed themselves somewhat charitable during the Jamboree, committing three turnovers on the night. All three of those gifts came in the form of fumbles.

“One of the turnovers was a defensive player putting his hat right on the football and knocking that thing loose,” Causey said. “The other two were pitches. You never excuse it, but it is part of the offense. We just try to limit it.”

Causey said the two pitches the Tigers lost were the result of miscommunication between new starting quarterback Ben Pettus and the Demopolis backs. The third-year DHS coach was unalarmed by the donations, citing the miscues as coachable mistakes.