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Playoff berth on the line
A win over Buckhorn puts Black Bears into 6A postseason
By Brooke Milam
firstname.lastname@example.org · 340-2460
Nearing the end of a long week of homecoming activities, Austin High football players shuffled out of practice Thursday evening and headed to watch the homecoming parade.
But amid all the excitement, there was much more on the minds of the Black Bears than the week's festivities.
"What's on my mind? The game really has been," senior defensive lineman Arsenio Elliott said. "It's a big win that we really need."
Austin (4-4, 3-3 in Class 6A, Region 8) has a high-stakes game with Buckhorn (5-3, 4-2) at Ogle Stadium on Friday.
A win over the Bucks would put Austin in the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
It's a situation the Black Bears know well. They missed out on the postseason on tie-breaking procedures two of the past three seasons and finished one win out of the playoff picture in 2005.
Austin coach David Norwood said those tough times make this week even more important for his program.
"The fact that in the last few years, it's always come down to one game — whether we go or we don't go," he said. "They know what's at stake just like I know what's at stake. We've set our goal every year to make the playoffs.
"We've been talking the talk. It's time to start walking the walk. It's a challenge, but a great opportunity as well."
Austin quarterback Justin Jones, a junior, understands his coach's urging and said that he believes this can be the year that the Black Bears make good on preseason promises.
"It can be different. We've got a lot of positive attitudes on our team this year," Jones said. "The most important thing this week is we're just trying to get the win and get into the playoffs."
Jones has watched film this week of Buckhorn, and he said he's been impressed with the Bucks' ability to move the ball on offense. Jones said that makes his job even more important Friday night — to keep the chains moving for Austin.
Jones has completed 89 or 177 passes for 1,205 yards and nine touchdowns this season.
Junior Freddie Moore is the Black Bears' leading receiver with 21 catches for 318 yards and two touchdowns.
Junior D'Nico Best is Austin's leading rusher with 86 carries for 558 yards. Jones follows with 52 carries for 253 yards and three touchdowns, and junior D.T. Shackelford has scored four rushing touchdowns.
Shackelford also leads Austin in tackles with 78, while defensive end Andrew Dodd has 65.
The Black Bears' defense will have to contain junior running back Meco Miller and sophomore Marquis Smith, who have combined for 764 rushing yards and eight touchdowns this season.
Buckhorn quarterback Darien Sharp has completed 32 of 49 passes for 458 yards and six touchdowns. Cameron Traylor has been Sharp's favorite target with eight receptions for 138 yards and four touchdowns. Sloan Finnerty has caught five passes for 135 yards and two scores, and Miller has 11 catches for 98 yards and a touchdown.
Special teams coverage will also be important for Austin, as Buckhorn's Jordan Tippit has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season.
Senior linebackers Brandon Banks and Casey Catron lead the Bucks' defense in tackles with 41 and 40, respectively.
Norwood said he spoke pointedly with his players at the end of practice Thursday, making sure they understood just how much was on the line against Buckhorn.
"I asked them, 'How do you want to be remembered?' Because for some of them, one more game is all they are guaranteed after this week," Norwood said.
"How much more football they want to keep playing will be decided Friday night."
Ogle Stadium game
Who: Buckhorn (5-3, 4-2 in Class 6A, Region 8) at Austin (4-4, 3-3).
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Stakes: Austin has a chance to make the Class 6A playoffs after finishing just outside of the Region 8 qualifiers the past three seasons. Buckhorn also has a playoff berth on the line. Both teams are in a must-win situation.
Friday’s other games
Class 5A: Decatur (7-1) at Brewer (3-5), J.O. Johnson (6-2) at Athens (3-5), West Point (1-7) at Hartselle (3-5).
Class 4A: Ardmore (1-7) at DAR (2-6), Columbia (5-3) at East Limestone (6-2), Lawrence County (3-5) at Hamilton (5-3), Priceville (4-4) at East Lawrence (1-7).
Class 3A: Colbert County (7-1) at Elkmont (4-4), Danville (0-8) at Hanceville (0-8), West Limestone (4-4) at Clements (3-5).
Class 2A: Cleveland (5-3) at Falkville (5-3), Red Bay (8-0) at Hatton (1-7), Tanner (5-3) at Cherokee (3-5), West Morgan (5-3) at Addison (6-2).
Class 1A: Brilliant (5-3) at Speake (7-1), R.A. Hubbard (3-5) at Hazlewood (8-0).
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