Joe Medley: Advancing through deep 3A north no easy task
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Nov 14, 2013 | 1990 views |  0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
C.J. Savage (6) and his Piedmont teammates face a tough second-round game at Deshler on Friday. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
C.J. Savage (6) and his Piedmont teammates face a tough second-round game at Deshler on Friday. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
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The Class 3A north playoff bracket is tough. How tough?

Former 4A power Deshler, which moved down to 3A a year ago, is the fourth seed out of Region 8.

That doesn't begin to address top-ranked and defending 3A champion Madison County (11-0), No. 8 Colbert County (10-1) and Lauderdale County (9-2), all from Region 8.

That's what remaining Region 5 hopefuls Saks, Piedmont and Glencoe have to go through in their chase for a state title, and the chase gets real in tonight's second-round games.

No. 3 Saks (11-0) will play at Lauderdale County, with the winner to play either Colbert County or Glencoe (8-3).

No. 5 Piedmont (10-1) gets its rematch with Deshler (8-3), which eliminated the Bulldogs a year ago, and Madison Academy likely awaits on the other side.

There are two ways to look at it, and the Region 5 representatives have to look at it as doable.

"It's good football," Piedmont coach Steve Smith said. "You get to the second round of the playoffs, you're supposed to be playing against good teams."

Saks coach Jonathan Miller, whose team is the first in school history to finish the regular season 10-0, expects major hurdles to keeping a memorable season alive.

"I think we're going to be ready to play," he said. "We're just looking at it like it's the next team on the schedule.

"To get to round three, we've got to beat Lauderdale County, who's got a great football team, and we just try to keep the focus on that, just keep it one week at a time."

So far, so good.

Saks opened the playoffs with a 51-21 rout of Good Hope. Piedmont, whose only loss is to Saks, handled Winfield 38-0, and Glencoe beat Hanceville 49-35.

Now, they just have to go beat Region 8 over two weeks to survive.

For Piedmont, there's the extra motivation from having lost to Deshler a year ago. Then again, the Bulldogs lost 23 seniors, and Deshler only returns five starters on both sides of the ball.

"They've got a solid team, just like they always do," Smith said. "They're a spitting image of what they've been the past 25 years -- wing-T on offense, and they run it real well.

"It's kind of cliché talk from coaches always, but whoever makes the fewest mistakes is probably going to win the game."

Speedy Saks has to overcome Lauderdale County's size.

"Offensively, the coach's son (Patrick Grisham) is the quarterback," Miller said. "They run the split-back veer, a lot of option, and they do it well.

"They try and get you four and five yards at a time and eat the clock up. They get a lot of big plays out of it, as well, but they're big and physical."

Size is the element Region 8 teams have in common.

"The biggest difference between teams I've seen from Region 8 and teams from around here, they're just a lot bigger," Miller said. "Their offensive and defensive linemen are big.

"They weight a lot more than our guys do."

Of the Region 8 teams, Madison Academy is "heads and shoulders above everybody else," Miller said.

Indeed. Running back Kerryon Johnson and crew have beaten Colbert County, Lauderdale County and Deshler by a combined score of 131-34.

The Mustangs also beat 5A Cullman 28-10 and 4A Clay Central 14-7. Both are still alive in the playoffs.

Madison Academy won the 3A title a year ago and lost to Handley in the final two years ago. Somebody will have to pull off an upset to keep the Mustangs from repeating.

As for the other Region 8 teams, they're all real good.

"You've got Lauderdale County, who was a semifinalist last year and knocked Deshler out," Smith said. "You've got Colbert County, who's got such a strong tradition, and this is one of those up years for them."

Deshler lost to Madison Academy, Colbert County and Lauderdale County by double-digit margins (Madison Academy and Colbert County on the road) but has won four games in a row, including a 54-14 rout of New Hope in the first round.

"I just think it's one of those things, kind of like our region has been the past few years," Smith said. "It's top-heavy with three or four really good teams, and then there's a big separation gap between them and the bottom four."

Hamilton, which opened the playoffs with a 33-18 victory over Weaver, rounds out the final eight in the 3A north bracket and will play Madison Academy tonight.

Getting to the final eight wasn't hard for any of the survivors. All won by at least 15 points in the first round.

Advancing from here is the challenge.

"You really don't expect to get a weak team at this point in the season," Smith said. "Everybody that's in the final eight in the north are all good. Any one of the teams that are left are capable teams."

Joe Medley is The Star's sports columnist. Call 256-235-3576 or email jmedley@annistonstar.com. On Twitter, @jmedley_star.

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