Daily photo by John Godbey|
Decatur coach Jere Adcock addresses his team before practice Tuesday morning as it prepares to face No. 2-ranked Russellville on Friday.
After slumping a year ago, Decatur back to its winning ways as it prepares to face No. 2 Russellville
By Brooke Milam
Sitting in the Decatur High weight room after an intense practice Tuesday morning, Red Raiders players vividly remember hosting Russellville a year ago.
That season, all the hype belonged to the visiting Golden Tigers, who took a 38-28 win en route to the Class 5A, Region 8 title. Decatur, meanwhile, continued to limp through a playoff-less season.
What a difference a year can make.
Now on a five-game winning streak, Decatur has put to rest any questions that last season's struggles could develop into a trend.
"That's out the window," Decatur's leading tackler, senior linebacker Tim Witherspoon, said while smiling and shaking his head.
Added junior tailback Chris Coffey, the Red Raiders' leading rusher: "I think that was gone after the Johnson game (the third week of the season)."
Ninth-ranked Decatur (5-1) will travel to second-ranked and undefeated Russellville (6-0) on Friday in a battle of the only two teams left undefeated in Region 8. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
Russellville again sits high in the polls just as it did a year ago when preparing to face Decatur, and the Golden Tigers haven't lost a region game in 46 tries, dating back to the 2000 season.
But this year, even though the Red Raiders are still looking up at the Golden Tigers in the rankings, the stakes are much higher.
"The thing that people notice more than anything is it's the flip side of what we were last year," Decatur head coach Jere Adcock said.
"I think a lot of people are looking at how this team has turned around the way last season went. There's so much on the table with this game. This year we're looking at a region championship."
While both teams will have two region games left to play after this week, Friday night's winner will secure at least a second-place finish, which translates into home-field advantage for the playoffs. The winner also will take control of the top spot in Region 8 with two weeks of region play to go.
“We’ve got inspiration,” senior offensive lineman Thomas Fite said. “We really have a lot more to lose this year, and it inspires us to do good every game to prove ourselves.”
The proof has been there for Decatur this year.
The Red Raiders have beaten every team they should — and even some they shouldn’t — and they have done so convincingly.
“I feel like we’ve been proving ourselves,” Coffey said.
Indeed, Decatur is not the same team it was a year ago, but it took some convincing.
The Red Raiders received no votes in the Alabama Sports Writers Association pre-season poll and didn’t break into the rankings until Oct. 3, after wins over then No. 1-ranked J.O. Johnson (30-20), Region 8 rival Hartselle (31-14), defending 5A state champion Athens (35-7) and 6A Sparkman (19-13).
Adcock preaches “one week at a time” to his players, but Fite said that in a schedule packed with big games this season, this is the one the Red Raiders have been waiting for. They now can turn their full attention to the Golden Tigers.
“Nobody wants to say it, but we’ve been looking at this game for several weeks,” Fite said. “I know I have.”
Senior tailback Michael Abernathy has carried the load for the Golden Tigers for three seasons and is averaging more 100 yards a game with 85 carries for 536 yards and six touchdowns in the five games in which he played.
Abernathy missed last week’s 14-10 win over Athens because of injury, but will be available this week.
Senior quarterback Cory Trapp has completed 67 of 113 passes for 879 yards and five touchdowns against six interceptions, while scoring two rushing touchdowns of his own.
The Golden Tigers offense average 27.2 points a game to Decatur’s 28.5 points.
Russellville’s defense has given up 15.3 points a game. Senior linebackers Josh James (61 tackles) and Kory Suggs (57) lead the way.
Decatur has surrendered 14.6 points a game.
With a win this week, the Red Raiders could close the door on any doubts that they are for real.
Adcock stopped short of saying that his Red Raiders are overachieving. Instead, he said Decatur is on par after winning seven region titles during the past 11 seasons and making the playoffs nine of 11 times since Adcock became the head coach in 1996.
“I don’t think we’ve played our best football yet,” Adcock said. “This is what we should be doing.
“To me, we’re where we’re supposed to be. It’s nice to be back there.”
Showdown: Decatur vs. Russellville
Heading into their game Friday at Russellville, the Red Raiders and Golden Tigers are the only two teams unbeaten in Class 5A, Region 8 play. Both are 4-0.
Russellville is ranked second in 5A behind Briarwood Christian, while Decatur is ninth.
Russellville won this matchup last year 38-28 at Ogle Stadium.
Each team has a tradition of winning in its region. Russellville has won its last 46 region games, while Decatur has won its region in seven of the last 11 years.
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