Non-region games aren't a break for some area prep teams
by Brandon Miller
bmiller@annistonstar.com
Sep 24, 2013 | 2391 views |  0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Piedmont's C.J. Savage runs past the diving Cleveland's Cody Blackwood during the Bulldogs' win Sept. 20. Piedmont will face Leeds in a battle of unbeatens Sept. 27. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Piedmont's C.J. Savage runs past the diving Cleveland's Cody Blackwood during the Bulldogs' win Sept. 20. Piedmont will face Leeds in a battle of unbeatens Sept. 27. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
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High school football teams get a break from region play this week, but it’s questionable how much of a break they're getting.

Friday's games don't have playoff implications, but some area teams still face matchups that will entice fans to the stadium. For that reason, coaches have their teams approaching this week’s games just like any other.

"It’s really not any different than any other week,” Piedmont coach Steve Smith said. “We enjoy every ballgame. What we try to instill in our kids is that each Friday night is special, and there are only so many times that you get to play. It just so happens that this week’s game is against Leeds.”

Class 3A No. 4 Leeds presents what should be second-ranked Piedmont’s biggest challenge this season. The majority of the five contests in the past decade between the Bulldogs and Green Wave have been instant classics, but Friday’s game is only one of several big games in the area.

Class 4A seventh-ranked Munford travels to No. 4 Clay Central, Wellborn hits the road against Class 2A sixth-ranked Fyffe and Alexandria stays in Calhoun County to face Class 3A eight-ranked Saks.

“Every game you want to win, whether it’s a region game or not,” Alexandria coach Frank Tucker said. “But because it’s not a region game, it’s not a make-or-break game. We just want to go out there and play well, but at the end of the day a win or loss doesn’t affect the playoffs.”

Although Alexandria has defeated Saks 25 of 34 times, the Wildcats got the better end of last year’s contest, 12-7, which was the first time the two teams had played since 2007.

“I think the kids really enjoy playing other county teams that aren’t in our region,” Saks coach Jonathan Miller said. “The kids know each other and that type of thing so I think that really like it.”

While the kids enjoy playing one another, for Miller it’s also a chance to beat his alma mater for the second straight season.

“It was maybe a little strange at first,” he said. “But I’ve been graduated for several years so they’re just another team.”

Saks will have to attempt to stop the Valley Cubs’ rushing attack that has combined for more than 800 yards the past two weeks.

There’s little question to the challenges Saks presents. Tucker said the Wildcats are the “best team we’ve played so far,” adding Saks has the best defense Alexandria has played in the first four weeks, as well. The Valley Cubs will also have to stop dual-threat quarterback Tre Smith, who has shined all season.

“We’re just looking at it as another opportunity to have a good week of practice, play well and get better,” Miller said. “We have a chance to build our confidence level and that’d be good for the next three weeks.”

Clay Central will have to stop a similar type of athletic team as Alexandria. Volunteers coach Kris Herron said his team will have its hands full with Munford and its offense, specifically quarterback Monteo Garrett.

“We haven’t been playing offenses that have as many threats as they’ve got,” he said. “Garrett is by far the best quarterback we’ve seen to date. We’ve kind of been sitting here watching him and he reminds you of a Johnny Manziel-type player.”

And while Herron is concerned with slowing down Garrett, Tavon Lawson and the Lions’ backfield, Munford coach Will Wagnon is trying to find a way to move the ball on Clay Central’s defense, which has posted three straight shutouts.

“They’re outstanding,” he said. “They put you in tough spots and make big plays. We just have to find a way to move the football. If we can do that then I think we’ll be fine offensively.”

This season’s matchup is much different than last year’s 42-14 game included. Wagnon said his team is “further ahead” this season than at this point in 2012. While Herron mentioned the challenge and concern Munford presents, he added he’s happy to play a local team.

“We’re in a region with teams that we’re not really familiar with. We don’t see them while we’re out shopping or whatever, but Munford is kind of like a rival in a way,” Herron said. “There’s not a lot of history there, but they’re someone who is close enough by that we know who they are and they know who we are. That’s why it’s a big game.”

That familiarity also includes Piedmont and Leeds.

The two 3A powers have history, playing for the sixth time Friday in the past six seasons. Of those six contests, two have come in the state quarterfinals and semifinals. As for the Week 5 meeting this season, however, it’s more of a chance for Piedmont to get better and see where it stands, Smith said.

“We’re still a young bunch when it comes to experience. A lot of guys are first-year starters,” he said. “We’re looking for the next opportunity for them to improve, but I’m very pleased with how they’ve played the first four games of the year. We’re just looking forward to the next game.

“I definitely think Leeds is a great measuring stick for us. We have what Leeds has and they’re a premier top-5 team in the state. Typically, they advance deep in the playoffs, and you have to go through Leeds. It’s not a make-or-break, but it’ll let us know where we are against a top-5 team.”

And even though playoff implications aren’t there, this game has been in the back of fans and players’ minds for a while now.

“There was a lot of excitement when it came time to schedule the game. I guess I’d be lying if I said this game wasn’t any different than the other ones,” Smith said. ”I think this is one people have been talking about more than others, and it’s one of those games we’re looking forward to playing in. I expect there to be a lot of excitement by game time on Friday.”

Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star
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