“I think we would be disappointed if we weren’t 6-0,” Young said. “That’s been the whole issue at this point.”
A win Friday against Victory Christian (1-5) will give Ranburne seven wins in a season for the first time since 2007, which also is the last time the Bulldogs made the state playoffs.
Ranburne hasn’t been 6-0 since 2001, hasn’t won a region title since 1993 and hasn’t won a playoff game since 1989, when the legendary Harlan Robinson was the coach.
But Young said there’s just something different about this year’s team.
“A lot of times you have to feed a group of kids to grow, but they’re growing on their own,” he said. “They don’t need a lot of attention and aren’t high maintenance. They still need some nudging, but they understand the game pretty well.”
Changes around the program began in July 2012 when Young brought aboard offensive coordinator Stephen Bailey. Until then, Ranburne was traditionally a run-first team. Young and Bailey blended the Young’s wing-T and Bailey’s short-pass spread to create something new at Ranburne.
Last year, while developing the new attack, Ranburne went 4-6, although three of the losses came by three points or less. Another loss came by eight points.
This year, the Bulldogs returned seven offensive starters, and the young players appeared to have benefited from their experience.
While center Cole Yearta said it wasn’t much of a transition from one year to the next, it looks different on the field.
Ranburne has averaged five more points a game this year, and possibly as a result, have shined in close games. Three of the six victories have come by eight points or less.
“We played so many ninth and 10th graders last year so the offense wasn’t new to them. They’ve been thrown through the fire,” Young said. “We really didn’t miss a beat as far as them buying into what we were trying to do offensively and defensively.”
Under the Young-Bailey offense, the Bulldogs have won games on the ground and through the air. Ranburne’s run game ripped at the seams when Dylan Tullis rushed for 197 yards against Vincent, but first-year starting quarterback Dylan Wiggins has thrown for more than 100 yards in five games this season.
“I like trying to being a leader and controlling everything,” Wiggins said. “I like picking people up when they’re down and trying to do things on the field.”
Over the past two weeks, against Beulah and Woodland, the sophomore quarterback has accounted for 313 and 261 yards and a combined seven touchdowns.
“We’ve known he could do this since the seventh grade,” Young said. “He’s just got ‘it’ — things you can’t coach.”
Wiggins has thrown for 955 yards on 67-of-98 passing this season with the help of a strong group of skill players around him. One of Ranburne’s strong points is being two-deep at every position, something most Class 2A schools don’t have the luxury of having.
“We’re just blessed,” Young said. “We don’t have any superstars, and I don’t think any of them would claim to be superstars, but they’re just good football players. Knowing that that’s who we practice against every day, that makes us better.
“We’ve won some close games, and that’s big because learning how to win for young kids is very important. Knowing that is doesn’t come easy is important because in our region there aren’t going to be many blowouts.”
Now, Ranburne is coming close to some important milestones.
If Ranburne wins Friday night against Victory Christian, it will clinch a spot in the postseason.
If the Bulldogs follow up by defeating Wellborn and Fultondale the following two weeks, then they’ll take the Class 2A, Region 6 championship.
“Our philosophy has been that this is the biggest game of the week regardless of who the opponent is, and we say that every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday,” Young said. “Coach (Nick) Saban calls it a faceless opponent, and you have to play a faceless opponent to play your best game.
“We still haven’t played our best game of the year. We haven’t even touched the surface.”
Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star.