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Longhorns have tough challenge ahead

LINDEN — Robby James was pretty happy about his Longhorns’ come-from-behind road victory over Hooper last week, but that elation has subsided under the sobering revelation that Friday night’s opponent is pretty dangerous.

When the Longhorns open region play at home this week, they will line up across from the Clarke Prep Gators, a team that dismantled a good Escambia Academy team 51-30 last week.

“They beat them a lot worse than that,” James said after watching the film of the game the catapulted CPA into this week’s Alabama Sports Writers Association poll. “They are big and strong. They are a running team, but they are about as physical as they can be. They just take the ball and run it right at you.”

The Gator offensive philosophy mirrors James’ own in many ways. The Longhorns prefer to stick with the ground game, run the clock and play good defense. They will have to be at their best in executing that approach this week as they contend with a Clarke Prep team that specializes in ball control.

“One thing you’ve got to do is keep the ball away from them,” James said. They walk to the huddle. They don’t get in a hurry. We’re going to have to be error free and aggressive on defense.”

The Longhorns will also have to avoid the pitfalls that nearly cost them against Hooper last week. Marengo Academy continually found itself in long yardage situations on third down.

“We put ourselves in some pretty tough holes. But I was proud of the fact that whenever we needed a big play, we got it done,” James said.

The Longhorns will be lining up against a CPA five-man front that will do its best to limit the rushing production of Matt Etheridge and Rabe Hale, a tandem that carried the ball 40 times for more than 160 yards and two scores Friday night. That defensive scheme means quarterback Matt Wallace will need to be efficient every time he is allowed to go to the air.

“Clarke Prep has got a great football team. They are going to be right there in the end,” James said. “It’s a good game to figure out where we are.”