After its best regular season since 2010, Central will get started on the pursuit of its ultimate goal of a state championship with a first-round matchup against Murphy on Friday.
In past years, Murphy, ranked No. 9 in the state by the Alabama Sportswriters Association, may have been a second-round matchup. In the new Class 7A, however, only 16 teams make the playoffs, and so the Red Devils must face a more talented 4-seed right out of the gate.
But this is nothing new to Central, which has faced a rigorous schedule all season long. Coach Jamey DuBose pointed out that the whole season has been a playoff for the Red Devils.
“I think our schedule has really prepared us for what we’re about to go through,” he said. “I’ll be honest, I took a step back today and looked at some of those games.”
Like Stockbridge (Ga.), which is 7-2 and hasn’t allowed more than the 30 points Central scored in any other game this season. Or Harris County, which just ended Carver’s 53-game region win streak en route to the GHSA Region 1-AAAAA championship.
It beat Auburn, the Class 7A Region 2 2-seed, 47-17, Prattville 42-34, Opelika 28-21 and Enterprise 51-27. Its only loss came to American Heritage (Delray Beach, Fla.), which is among the best in the Sunshine State.
“The list goes on and on of good teams that we’ve seen and had to go through,” DuBose said. “The biggest thing is survival now. It doesn’t matter how you win, you’ve just got to win. And we’ve won like that all year.”
It’s true. The Red Devils haven’t necessarily blown out all their opponents in the second half of the season. After outscoring Auburn 90-31 in back-to-back games to open September, Central has failed to hold its opponent under 20 points. On the season, it is allowing 27.9 per game.
Still, it has won, and that is the most important task at this point in the season.
To win on Friday, it will have to account for a handful of Murphy’s weapons, not least of which is three-star Duke commit, quarterback DePriest Turner.
Turner has passed for 1,645 yards, 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions and rushed for 1,055 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. He is praised for his speed and elusiveness, reminding DuBose of other quarterbacks the Red Devils have already seen this season.
“He’s no different than the Harris County guy (TaQuon Marshall) or the guy at Prattville (Keith Washington),” he said. “He’s a guy who can run and throw and do a lot of things.”
Playing behind a strong offensive line, the onus will be on the Central defensive front to apply pressure but quarantine him within the pocket.
“He’s the key,” linebacker Deiondre Kinard said. “We’ve got to keep the pressure on him and not let him beat us with his legs.”
DuBose also spoke highly of Murphy’s defense, which is allowing less than 20 points per game so far this season. Central does, however, have its fair share of weapons, from tall receivers Jamal Couch and Quan Weaver to quarterback Zion Webb to running back Kenneth Thomas and do-it-all athlete Traveon Samuel.
Samuel is always the biggest threat for the Red Devils, and that will be no different on Friday. He’s also looking to atone for a couple of down seasons, by his expectations, and leave his mark on Central in his final playoffs.
“I reflect on it a lot,” he said about missing the playoffs last year and being one-and-done in 2012. “We missed some opportunities. This year, we have a chance to redeem ourselves.”
Glenwood set for Escambia Academy in improbable playoff matchup
The five losses to close out the regular season, four of which came via shutout would normally be enough to end any team’s season.
A three-game winning streak, two of which came against region opponents, earlier in the season, however, was enough to withstand the damage for the Glenwood Gators.
Glenwood will travel to face Escambia Academy in the first round of the Class 3A AISA playoffs on Friday, and coach Tripp Henderson said that the regular season is in the past. All that matters is that the Gators are in the tournament.
“This is the first goal you set for yourself at the beginning of the year,” he said. “You’ve got to get in before you can do anything.”
Now that it has the opportunity, Glenwood must improve in specific areas, not least of which is putting points on the board. It notched just 91 in its 10 regular season games and averages a 29.9-9.1 loss.
It played and lost to Escambia 41-0 on Oct. 24, so it knows firsthand the challenge it faces.
“We know what kind of team they are,” Henderson said. “They’re really physical. They’re one of the two most physical teams we saw all year. We know it will be tough, but we’re looking forward to playing.”
Glenwood missed the playoffs last season and hasn’t won a playoff game since 2011.