The Valley Cubs were winless, losing games to Leeds, Oneonta and Anniston by a combined score of 100-27.
But it wasn’t foreign territory.
Alexandria, who clinched a playoff berth with its 22-15 win against St. Clair County at Lou Scales Stadium, started last 1-3 last season before reeling off seven straight victories and advancing to the second round of the AHSAA Class 4A state football playoffs.
Alexandria (5-4) finished 4-3 in Region 6 play this year to earn its eighth straight trip to the postseason.
“It probably could’ve been tough losing those games to start out if the kids had given up,” said fourth-year Alexandria coach Frank Tucker. “I think it just made them tougher.”
The Valley Cubs lost their season opener 38-0 to Class 3A No. 1 Leeds at home then fell in a one-point game against Oneonta on the road in Week 2. Tucker said his team’s play in the 28-27 loss at the hands of the Redskins was an indicator they could perform well against quality ball clubs.
They’d have to wait another week before earning their first victory with a 19-6 win against Jacksonville on the road, which came after a 34-0 loss to Anniston in Week 3.
Since then, Alexandria has won four of its last five games, including their last three in a row.
Tucker said last year’s experience gave a young team that began the season with seven first-time starters on both offense and defense confidence to weather the storm. Their maturation has had as much to do with the team’s turnaround as anything.
“There’s no substitute for experience,” Tucker said. “No matter how much you practice, they weren’t going to get any better until they get that game-type experience. Now, we’re going into the 10th game of the season and they aren’t first-year players any more.”
Alexandria’s coaching staff came into the season thinking their squad would be strong along the offensive and defensive lines but knew they were untested at quarterback and running back, a staple of their team in year’s past. They looked to replace Jaron Johnson, The Star’s Class 4A-6A Calhoun County Player of the Year last season, by committee with Dar Harper and DeAntae Owens. However, Harper went down with a hand injury and hasn’t seen action since Week 5.
Sophomore Jarline Lee has stepped into his slot and filled it nicely. He carried the ball 29 times against St. Clair County, and Owens scored a pair of touchdowns out of the backfield to go along with an interception on defense.
“He’s stepped up and played big for us,” Tucker said of Lee. “We knew he was a pretty good running back coming into the season and we planned to get him some carries but those other two guys had earned that spot. Since Dar went out, he’s stepped in and done a good job.”
Friday night, the Valley Cubs limited a St. Clair County squad that had scored 30 plus points on five occasions to just two scores.
“I thought they might score 50 points on us,” Tucker said. “Our assistant coaches had a good game plan. We don’t have any geniuses on our staff. We just try to work hard.”
The Valley Cubs will host Lincoln (1-8) before they hit the road for their opening round playoff games.
This season hasn’t been an ideal journey but it’s not anywhere they haven’t been before.
“I’d rather be 9-0 and never have been in a hole than 5-4 and just coming out of one,” Tucker said. “But (coming back from 1-3 to qualify for the playoffs last year) can help you with being up for the challenge.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.