Expectations are high at Ranburne as the 2014 football season opens. After a five-year absence, the Bulldogs were back in the playoffs in 2013, not limping in as a fourth-place finisher but as region champion. The talent is clearly there to continue last year’s success but only if this year’s group remembers that last year’s success was the result of hard work and dedication to detail in practice and staying focused in games.

Confidence is a necessary element to winning football games. Over-confidence and lack of respect for opposing teams leads to losses. If the Bulldogs need a reminder they’ll get it quickly. Ranburne opens at Pleasant Valley Friday. The Raiders are a Class 3A team now but were a region opponent for the Bulldogs in 2012 and 2013. Last year’s game went to overtime before Ranburne eked out a 33-32 win over a team that didn’t qualify for the postseason.

“The main thing is to take care of the ball and don’t give up any big plays,” Bulldogs coach Chard Young replied when asked what he considered the keys to a win for his team.

Pleasant Valley has moved Drew Lewiski, a talented and physical running back last year, to quarterback and Lewiski is a threat in scrambling situations.  

The Bulldogs have every reason to be confident entering the season. In their jamboree game at Bremen (Ga.) last Friday, they led the Blue Devils 28-7 after two quarters of normal game action. Ranburne led 21-0 before Bremen scored then added a fourth touchdown.

“We had four possessions and scored four times. That’s about all you can ask for,” Young said.

Ranburne quarterback Dylan Wiggins completed a 63-yard pass to Brayden Wilson on the first offensive play for the Bulldogs, setting up a short scoring run by Dylan Tullis. Kicker Jake Howle, who was 4-for-4 on extra points for the half, made it 7-0. Wiggins then added three touchdown passes. The second Ranburne touchdown came on his screen pass to Dalton Wiggins that covered about 40 yards. A 30-yard touchdown pass from Wiggins to Dylan Thrower made it 21-0. With Ranburne ahead 21-7, Wiggins tossed a screen pass to Wilson who scored from about 25 yards away.

In all, six different receivers caught passes and that group did not include either Kyle Lovvorn or Adam Sheppard, two of last year’s receiving leaders. Overall, the Bulldogs were physical and their execution was sharp.

Physical play and execution will be needed to claim another region title. Reclassification has put Ranburne in a new 2A region that includes only the Bulldogs and arch-rival Woodland as holdovers from the region of the past two seasons.  Region 5 for the 2014 and 2015 seasons will include Horseshoe Bend, LaFayette, Lanett, Randolph County and Reeltown in addition to Ranburne and Woodland.  

Lanett was last year’s Region 5 champion, going 9-0 in the regular season then winning twice in the playoffs before losing to Fyffe in the third round. Clifford Story’s Panthers are expected to be strong again this year. The Reeltown Rebels were third in the region last year at 7-3 then lost in the opening round of the playoffs. This year’s Reeltown team is expected to be more like the 2009 team that defeated Clay County for the 2A state championship and the 2010 team that was 2A runner-up to Leroy.

Montgomery Academy, No. 2 in Region 5 last year and the team that eliminated Ranburne from the playoffs, and No. 4 Isabella changed regions in the new reclassification.

The Bulldogs won’t have to contend with Fultondale and Wellborn from last year’s region and Young described the exchange as “a pretty even swap.”               

   Entering the season, the Bulldogs appear to have depth without a significant drop off in ability. The first group of skill players scored twice against Bremen and the second group had two touchdowns as well.   

Dylan Wiggins returns at quarterback and Dylan Tullis returns at one running back. Dalton Wiggins, Donovan Tullis and Logan Otwell will also spend time in the backfield. Lovvorn, Thrower, Dustin Chambers and Owen Smith are the primary wide receivers with Sheppard and Wilson the tight ends. Wilson can also line up on the outside.

The offensive line will include four guards and four tackles and Young expects all eight to play regularly. Returning starters are Zach Patterson at guard and Ryan Smith at tackle. Patterson is a senior and Smith a junior. Senior G.W. Caldwell has moved from running back to guard. Jacob Ertzberger, a senior, and Riley Smith, a sophomore, will also play guard. At tackle are junior Blake Young, senior Nick Ward and senior Trent Williams. Junior Logan Sibley is the starter at center with freshman Lee Jackson behind him.      

On defense, the three-man front will be a rotation of Sheppard, Williams, Ward, Riley Smith, Young, Patterson, Sibley and Ertzberger.     The Bulldogs will continue an alignment of five linebackers in which the outside linebackers often appear to be defensive ends. Chambers, Lovvorn, Donovan Tullis and sophomore Jordan Beal will play on the outside. In the middle of the three inside linebackers will be sophomore Hunter McAdams. Lovvorn and Young can also play the middle position. Caldwell will be the strong-side linebacker and Dalton Wiggins will play the weak-side backer. Sibley and Ertzberger are the backups.   

At the cornerbacks are Otwell and Wilson with Dylan Tullis and Thrower behind them. Owen Smith and Dylan Wiggins will rotate at safety.