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Linden faces Sunshine for Homecoming

LINDEN – On paper, Friday’s match-up in Linden is a gross mismatch. The Patriots enter at 6-0, ranked No. 2 in the state in Class 1A and hold a 19-1 mark since the beginning of last season.

Then there’s Sunshine, the Patriots opponent for the their annual Homecoming celebration. The Tigers have not enjoyed quite as much success as their counterparts. Jonathan Jenkins’ team enters at 0-6 overall this season and holds a mark of 1-15 since the beginning of the 2008 campaign.

What the record does not show is the growth the Tigers have experienced in recent weeks.

“We finally played a complete game,” Jenkins said of the team’s 12-8 loss to Autaugaville Friday night. “We played all but eight minutes against Marengo. We played all but four against John Essex. Friday night, we played a complete game. We didn’t have a breakdown in special teams. For all practical purposes, we didn’t have a breakdown in offense and defense. We were pleased with effort. We were pleased with attitude. things looked and felt real good. We just didn’t come through with a win.”

While Sunshine is coming off its most complete performance of the year, Linden is fresh on the heels of a 23-14 win over Maplesville that leaves it in the driver’s seat of Class 1A, Region 3. While the conventional expectation is that Linden will plow through the remainder of its schedule, head coach Andro Williams knows his team must maintain its focus to avoid slipping up.

Attempting to avoid calamity begins this week when the Pats will try to slow a Sunshine running game that features blazing backs Tevin Griffin and Shaun McAlpine.

“We’ve got to try to play good up front so we can control them before they get started,” Williams said of the senior tandem that has started since its sophomore season. “If they get behind us, we won’t have anybody that can catch them.”

In addition to planning for Griffin and McAlpine, Williams has also set his sights on Sunshine quarterback John May.

“After looking at their film, I was pretty impressed with their quarterback,” Williams said.

As the teams get set for their annual meeting, Williams gives no heed to the conventional wisdom that the game is a mismatch.

“I really feel like they are definitely better than what their record states,” Williams said. “They’ve got some athletes on that football field.”

The challenge for Sunshine is more obvious. The Tigers must find a way to limit a rushing attack that has allowed Kendarius Fritts to net 1,026 yards and 17 touchdowns on the season thus far. Additionally, they must find a way to slow a passing attack saw Anthony Robinson throw for 234 yards against Maplesville.

Jenkins expects only one thing from his team as it readies for Linden. The veteran coach anticipates that his players will get better. Through the remainder of this season, improving weekly is the Tigers’ main priority. Jenkins believes the Linden game will do the most to accomplish that goal.

“It will always make us better. It made us better last year. Last year, the Linden game was when everything started to come together,” Jenkins said. “Sunshine has beaten Linden only once in the history of the two schools. Linden just seems to motivate the best out of us. Linden does motivate Sunshine football players to play better.”

The challenge for Linden is less apparent. Williams has continually emphasized to his players the importance of shaking off the customary distractions that accompany Homecoming festivities.

“We don’t let the Homecoming festivities distract us this week. We’ve got to come out and try to establish ourselves early,” Williams said. “Jenkins will have them ready to play.”