Linden lines up with McKenzie

Published 11:33 am Wednesday, November 10, 2010

LINDEN — This is where the Patriots’ 21-12 week four loss to Sweet Water comes into play. Exactly nine points separated Linden from the Class 1A, Region 1 championship and a home playoff game in the second round of the state playoffs.

The outcome of that game has the Bulldogs at home hosting McIntosh, who pulled off one of the bigger upsets in recent years when it downed Brantley last week in round one. Conversely, Linden will head to McKenzie (10-0) to try to extend its playoff life and earn a round three date with either Maplesville or Pickens County.

“We’re trying to prepare our kids mentally for what the atmosphere is going to be like down there,” Linden head coach Andro Williams said of his team’s trip to McKenzie. “They are excited about what is going on in their football program and the crowd should be pretty big.”

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For the Patriots, shutting out the crowd is only part of the task in toppling the Tigers. The other part is countering McKenzie’s athletic skill players, namely Southern Miss commit Emmanuel Johnson.

“They’ve got a dang good football team,” Williams said. “(Their coaches) do a good job of getting them ready. They are the most athletic bunch we have been on the field with. If we were to lose or if were to keep winning all the way through the playoffs, they would still be the most athletic bunch we had been on the field with.”

The difficulty Linden will face in its efforts to hold Johnson in check will be compounded by the standout athlete’s ability to line up at multiple positions. He has contributed to McKenzie’s offense in all phases through the Tigers’ first 10 games of the season.

“We’re trying to give him some different looks and throw some different things at him,” Williams said.

“You have to know where he is on the field at all times. You’ve got to prepare to defend him at quarterback. You’ve got to prepare to defend him at running back. You’ve got to prepare to defend him at split end.”

McKenzie’s ability to move Johnson around the field may make it difficult for the Patriots to utilize some of the packages that have proven successful for them thus far this season.

“They do a good job of keeping you honest,” Williams said. “We’ve got to try our best to eliminate the big play.”

Linden is also combatting history and trends as it attempts to overcome the Tigers on the road this week.

Two years ago the Patriots were eliminated in the fourth round of the state playoffs before being bounced by Brantley in the third round a season ago.

Now in his fourth postseason at the Linden head coach, Williams believes his Patriots are better prepared mentally than they have been in any of his previous campaigns.

“Our kids know the challenges in front of us,” Williams said. “They know it is playoffs. There are 16 teams left in 1A that are praciting right now.”

Williams said that knowledge coupled with the experience his team has from its last two playoff runs has helped the Patriots to maintain better focus each week and avoid the pitfalls that have ended previous seasons.

“All we can do is take care of right now,” he said. “These kids have been around the loop a couple of times.”

Linden will travel to McKenzie Friday night for a contest that is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m.