Do the Lions (11-1), ranked ninth in Class 4A headed into tonight’s quarterfinal game at No. 7 J.O. Johnson (11-1), have the stuff to keep it going?
A lot of indicators from their season, and seasons leading up to it with this group of players, say yes.
This Munford team has been four years in the making, and so has the goal.
“We’re not satisfied where we’re at,” star senior quarterback Monteo Garrett said. “We probably won’t be satisfied until we reach our goal, and that’s to win a state championship.”
The Lions are three victories away, but getting here has been a steady climb.
It started when fourth-year coach Will Wagnon arrived in 2010, after helping Cherokee County win a 4A title as offensive coordinator. In his four years, the Lions have gone 3-7, 5-5, 8-4 and 11-1.
They got a taste of what could be by reaching the second round of the playoffs a year ago. They also got a taste of how quickly it can end, when Brooks eliminated them 45-35.
“Brooks was a No. 1 seed and 10-1, so we were the underdogs, and we were supposed to be the underdogs,” Wagnon said. “We really could have won that ballgame.
“We made some mistakes late that really hurt us, and we really felt like after that game that we could have won it, that we were as good as Brooks.”
This season, the schedule set up to test the Lions early and often.
The first half of their schedule included back-to-back, key Region 5 victories over Cleburne County and Jacksonville. Cleburne County remains alive in the playoffs, and Jacksonville reached the second round.
A week later, Munford suffered its only loss of the season, in a non-region game against Clay Central, which has also reached the third round.
The Lions have played a midseason, non-region game against Clay Central in both years of Clay Central’s existence as the merger of storied rivals Clay County and Lineville. Munford lost both times, but Wagnon had a reason for scheduling the Vols.
“When I scheduled Clay Central, I felt like that was the type of program we wanted to be like,” he said. “Lineville and Clay County? Semifinals and state-championship games year after year after year? When you put the two together, you’ve got to know that’s going to be something special.”
The 30-14 loss to Clay Central this year, immediately after winning those key region games against Cleburne County and Jacksonville, wound up being a cost-free splash of cold water.
“It was a turning point for our football team,” Wagnon said. “We weren’t real sure where we were at.
“We went down to Clay Central, and we didn’t play as well as we could have, but we were able to see that, hey, we’re not quite as good as we think we are. We’ve got a little ways to go, and I think the kids responded well to that.”
Munford has won seven consecutive games, including a 26-16 victory over No. 10 Guntersville in the second round of the playoffs.
One miscue in that game shed light on a sign of Munford’s maturity. The Lions fumbled once against Guntersville, but it was their first fumble in seven games.
“After the Clay Central game, we didn’t fumble, and we cut down on mistakes like bad snaps and bad reads,” Garrett said. “We learned from that game — players, coaches, everybody.”
Now, Munford has reached a stage in the playoffs where anything can happen.
If the Lions win tonight, they will play the winner between Cleburne County and No. 2 Oneonta in the semifinals. The 4A south bracket, considered the toughest this year, features quarterfinal games between No. 5 Dadeville and No. 4 UMS-Wright plus No. 8 Clay Central and No. 1 Charles Henderson.
Munford has never won a state title and reached the finals once, losing to Daleville in 1992. If the Lions reach the finals this year, they’ll tie the school record for victories in a season.
“We’ve reached some of our goals this year, to beat Lincoln and win the region championship,” Garrett said. “So, us making it the third round is an honor, but it’s just another game where we can come out and play football.”
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.