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Longhorns looking for life in playoffs

If any team is limping into the playoffs, it just may be the Marengo Academy Longhorns. Riding on a four-game winning streak earlier this season, Marengo Academy (5-6, 3-3) has dropped its last three games.

On Oct. 16, MA appeared ready to take its fifth game in a row and had a legitimate chance at clinching home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Then, the Longhorns blew a double-digit fourth quarter lead in a heartbreaker against Tuscaloosa Academy and hobbled to the regular season finish with blowout losses to perennial AISA powers Bessemer and Southern.

Now, the team that has never dressed more than 20 players this season, draws Pike Liberal Arts, the defending state champions for Class AAA and No. 2 seed from Region 1.

“They were state champions last year and they’ve got a good bunch of those guys returning,” first year Marengo Academy coach Robby James said. “Their quarterback, Trey Walters is pretty good. He can throw the ball well. They’ve got one of the best backs we’ve seen all year in Nick McLaughlin. I think their strength offensively is their line. they block real well and get after you.”

The game marks the second straight season the Longhorns and Patriots have met in the first round of the AISA Class AAA state playoffs. In 2008, the Pike Lib ended Marengo’s season with a 28-12 win.

The Longhorns head into the first round in search of some semblance of momentum. Against rival Southern Academy last week, the Longhorns were beaten in every conceivable facet of the game while failing to account for even one first down in a 48-7 loss.

“I don’t know what we did the other night really,” James said. “We just didn’t play. Maybe we can come back and get our heads up and do what we’re supposed to do.”

The Longhorns enter with the added pressure of dealing with the injury bug for the first time this season. Starting middle linebacker Alan Flowers will miss his second straight game due to injury. A number of other Longhorn starters are also battling nagging injuries.

Considering the lack of numbers on the roster and persistent injuries down the stretch, James understands that qualifying for the playoffs at the AAA level was no small accomplishment.

“There’s a lot of teams that would love to be in the playoffs,” James said. “I think it is a great accomplishment.”

Still, the veteran head coach is not pleased with the idea that his team is “just happy to be there.” He has seen his squad outperform expectations and talent levels throughout the season and believes that doing so Friday night in Troy is not beyond the realm of possibility.

For evidence of the faith he has in his team, James turns to a 22-15 come-from-behind win the Longhorns pulled off against Prattville Christian on Oct. 8. In that affair, PCA had more players, more talent and a wide open offense. But the Longhorns dominated the second half of the game and took the victory.

“If we go and play and put our heart in it like we can, we can beat (the Patriots),” James said. “We’ll go and give it everything we’ve got and you never know what can happen.”