A rising star

Malik Pope (27) has provided a spark to the Aggies' offense. The freshman running back recorded 159 total yards in the second half against Munford.

Sylacauga High School’s football team will look to advance past the first round of the Class 5A playoffs when the Aggies travel to Jasper tonight at 7.

The Aggies (7-3), who haven’t reached the second round since 2013, fell to Eufaula 48-31 in the first round in 2017. Eufaula’s coach last season, Bryan Moore, now coaches the Vikings (9-1).

“We’re playing a really good football team that has moved out of 6A,” Sylacauga head coach Matt Griffith said. “Bryan Moore came up from Eufaula and took over that program. He’s a very good football coach.

“We feel we’ll be tested. I think the schools are very similar. I think the communities are very similar. They’re a little bit bigger than we are because they’ve been in 6A, but it’s going to be a good football game, we hope.”

Griffith said while having faced a Moore-coached squad last season may help his players prepare for concepts and schemes, he added the real benefit comes from a much-needed break.

“What we’re hoping is having a full two weeks to prepare for this ballgame -- we hope it can give us an edge,” he said. “I think the off week has helped us get some things fixed fundamentally. ... Going into the second half against Munford (a 34-28 win in Week 9), we did some things personnel-wise and we think we’ve come across exactly where we need to be and what we need to be doing.

“There’s no doubt our kids have really popped around for these eight practices getting ready for Jasper. There’s just something about the time change and turning lights on for Friday night that just makes your kids pop around a little bit more. Our kids are very excited. They’ve had great practices this week. We’re going to Jasper at 7 o’clock and we’re going to find out how well we can play.”

Sylacauga and Jasper have met just once -- in 2010, when Jasper was known as Walker. The Vikings won 28-19.

In 2018, Jasper has averaged 33.1 points per game and allowed 16.8. Sylacauga has scored 25.7 and limited opponents to 19.0.  

The Aggies recently received a spark from freshman running back Malik Pope, who gained 159 total yards in the second half against Munford. Pope has played in the defensive backfield all season and saw his most extensive time at running back against the Lions.

Griffith said he has talked to coaching peers about how they managed the reps for young talent like Pope in order to not wear down a promising star.

“We knew we were going to bring Malik along really slowly on offense …” Griffith said. “It’s very hard for a ninth-grader to step up and play at the level that needs to be played, but Malik playing on defense, in all these games, he was ready. When he stepped in against Munford, he played very well. He had an excellent week of practice, and there’s a lot of exciting things that’s gonna happen for him.”