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Aiming for the playoffs
Austin hosts HazelGreen in important Region 8 contest
By Brooke Milam
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Austin High football coach David Norwood has a simple goal that can make the difference in the Black Bears' season — consistency.
And with enough talent to be one of the top teams in Class 6A, Region 8, Norwood's Black Bears do not have to look far for examples of what he expects.
Senior Xalyn Peek, a center, and junior D.T. Shackelford, a standout at running back and linebacker, have been steady this season. They pace what Norwood hopes will be a full team effort during the stretch drive, which begins Friday night when Austin (2-4, 1-3 in the region) hosts Hazel Green (0-6, 0-4) at Ogle Stadium.
"No matter how good it is or how bad it is or how good it is, they're the same guys every day. They're consistent," Norwood said.
"That's what we're looking for across the board."
The time is now for the Black Bears to prove how good they can be. While they've offered glimpses of their talent throughout the season, they need to remain consistent during the next three weeks to make the playoffs.
All three games are against region opponents, and if the Black Bears finish in the top four of Region 8, they'll go the playoffs. They're in sixth place but only one game out of fourth.
So, with hopes still alive, it all starts this week against Hazel Green.
"It's an area game, and we have a shot at the playoffs," Norwood said. "Our guys know what they have to do to push themselves into one of those spots for the playoffs."
Florence, Huntsville and Buckhorn are atop the region standings, all undefeated in Region 8. Sparkman is in fourth at 2-2, with one of those losses coming to Austin.
"I have been very impressed with every one of the teams this year in our region," said Hazel Green coach Alvin Palmer, a 30-year coaching veteran in his first season with the Trojans.
"We're out here working hard trying to survive, but we're really struggling right now and we've got some injuries affecting right now, too."
The door is open this week for the Black Bears to capitalize.
Against common opponents Hazel Green fell to Sparkman 49-14, while Austin beat the Senators 34-31.
Both teams lost to Florence — Hazel Green fell to the Falcons 61-7 and Austin 43-28. Hazel Green was shut out by Huntsville 44-0, while Austin also lost to the Crimson Panthers 31-13.
Overall, Austin is averaging 19 points a game to Hazel Green's 8.2.
The Black Bears defense has given up 26.2 points a contest, while the Trojans have surrendered an average of 44.
Palmer said he and his staff have picked up on several of Austin's strengths while watching game videotape.
"Their strength and their total team speed," Palmer said. "They've got more team speed than we do."
Norwood pointed to the running game as a strength of his team.
"We've been able to run the ball week-in, week-out, and that's been one area we can depend on," Norwood said.
But Norwood's team is looking for more to depend upon, and he said his Black Bears know the importance of that this week.
"We're looking for the same thing every week, and if we can do that, we'll win ballgames," Norwood said. "Our guys look at the standings. They know where they stand in the region and they know what they have to do."
Ogle Stadium game
Who: Hazel Green (0-6, 0-4 in Class 6A, Region 8) at Austin (2-4, 1-3)
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Stakes: As the postseason race tightens, both teams are in need of a win in the region. Hazel Green is still winless in the region, while Austin is still in the hunt for a postseason berth but faces a must-win situation against the Trojans.
Friday’s other games
Class 5A: Decatur (5-1) at Russellville (6-0), Athens (2-4) at Hartselle (2-4), J.O. Johnson (4-2) at Brewer (3-3).
Class 4A: Brooks (5-1) at Lawrence County (2-4), DAR (1-5) at East Lawrence (1-5), East Limestone (5-1) at Ardmore (1-5), Priceville (3-3) at Madison County (6-0).
Class 3A: Clements (1-5) at Lauderdale County (2-4), Elkmont (3-3) at Colbert Heights (6-0), New Hope (2-4) at Danville (0-6), West Limestone (3-3) at Lexington (1-5).
Class 2A: Falkville (3-3) at Victory Christian (1-5), Phil Campbell (0-6) at Addison (5-1), Tanner (3-3) at Hatton (0-6), West Morgan (3-3) at Winston County (2-4).
Class 1A: Hazlewood (6-0) at Vina (2-4), R.A. Hubbard (2-4) at Hackleburg (0-6), Speake (5-1) at Shoals Christian (3-3).
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