Talladega High School’s football team will head west of Interstate 65 to open the Class 4A playoffs against Montevallo at Theron Fisher Stadium tonight at 7.
The only previous meeting between the Tigers (5-4) and the Bulldogs (6-4) occurred nearly eight decades ago. Talladega won that matchup 57-0 on Sept. 26, 1940, way back when FDR was in the White House.
Both teams will look to advance to the second round of the postseason, where the victor will face the winner of UMS-Wright/Dale County on Nov. 15 at 7 p.m.
If Montevallo wins, it would travel regardless of the opponent, but if Talladega wins, the Tigers would either host UMS-Wright for the program’s first home playoff game in school history, or travel to Dale County.
Here are three things to know going into this playoff contest:
Continuing the culture shift
The Tigers reached the playoffs for the third straight season after more than two decades of missing the cut.
Talladega head coach Shannon Felder said getting the team back to the postseason was a part of the squad’s objectives entering 2019.
“For me, I’m just happy for the players and for the seniors,” Felder said. “I know it was a goal of the guys and the staff to make it to the playoffs. We wanted to make sure we kept the streak going and we sent the seniors out on a good, positive note. Making the playoffs was definitely a part of doing that.
“I think we’re one of 32 4A teams that are still playing, and it’s certainly exciting to be one of those teams.”
The Tigers earned the third seed in Region 4 but limped into the postseason with back-to-back losses to Handley (41-14) and 5A Moody (21-14).
“Like I told the guys, there’s nothing you can do about the past,” Felder said. “Yesterday is yesterday. The only thing you can do from the past is learn from it. That’s what we’re trying to do.
“Our focus is on that next step. We lost those games, but I told them, when I went to Montgomery on Saturday, that I was going down there 0-0. Everybody’s record is the same going into the playoffs.”
A familiar foe for Felder
Felder said he won’t be going in blind against the Bulldogs tonight after having faced the squad while he was head coach at Sumter Central in 2017 and 2018.
“Defensively, they’ve played some really good ball lately, which has kind of been the way, if you’re familiar with Coach (Brandon) Wilcox,” Felder said. “A lot of his teams initially (don’t) start out playing defense as well on the front end, but as it gets closer and closer to playoff time, his defense just seems to play better.”
He added the Tigers will have to figure out how to stop all the pressure the Bulldogs will attempt to bring on defense.
“They’re going to blitz five or six people pretty much every down,” Felder said. “They’re going to keep at least six people in the box, regardless of what you’re doing or how you line up.
“That’s going to present a challenge for our guys offensively to be able to pick up those guys, figure out what they’re doing defensively and execute the game plan based on what they’re doing to us and what we’re trying to do from an offensive standpoint.”
Montevallo also fields a high-powered offense featuring quarterback Malik Inabinette and tall wide receivers JJ Evans and Jamarius Carter.
“It’s a tough challenge for us,” Felder said. “We’re trying to figure out ways we can stop that offense. We’ve got a plan. Hopefully, we can execute it, and we’ll see if that plan is good enough to get the job done.”
Experienced Tigers up for the task
Talladega’s 13-member senior class and its group of junior playmakers gleaned some experience from the previous postseason stints, a 12-6 loss to Carroll in 2017 when the program was in 5A, and a 13-12 loss to Headland in 2018.
“I think that when you go into the playoffs, if you’ve been there before, you kind of have an idea of what you’re going to be dealing with and how things are going to happen,” Felder said. “We’re not going to do anything different than how we’ve done it all season long.”
He added that it won’t just be in the hands of any one player to get the job done against the Bulldogs.
“Everybody on our team has a role,” Felder said. “All I want everyone to do is stay within themselves and execute your role — do your job.
“Some people’s job is going to be to be good blockers for us. Some people’s job is going to be to be a decoy on some plays. Then, some people’s jobs are going to be to make a play.
“It’s just a matter of everyone doing their job because we’re not going to win and we won’t be effective if everyone doesn’t execute their job to the best of their abilities.”