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Confident
Decatur peaking

Red Raiders hosting Rockets in state playoff opening round

By Brooke Milam
bmilam@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

When the Gardendale Rockets roll into Decatur on Friday to face the Red Raiders in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs, they will find a confident, focused team with improved depth that is excited about starting the playoffs.

That description came from the words of Decatur head coach Jere Adcock and his players, who have a quiet confidence about them as they prepare for this week’s first-round game against Gardendale.

Kickoff at Ogle Stadium is 7 p.m.

“We’re stronger than we were at the beginning of the season,” Adcock said.

“When you get here, if you’re a true playoff team, it energizes you.”

Class 5A No. 5 Decatur (9-1) earned its trip to the playoffs by winning the 5A, Region 8 championship and has not lost to a 5A team all season.

Gardendale (6-4) enters as the fourth seed from Region 6. Decatur, like most region champions, will be considered the favorite, but Red Raiders players said that has not been part of the pep talk this week. “We treat all the teams the same. We don’t really look at who’s favored and who’s not,” Decatur senior safety William Sartain said.

The Red Raiders have not lost since their season opener and have not slowed in building a nine-game winning streak.

“I think we’ve progressed every week,” senior defensive back Aaron Boykin said.

“It’s do or die because we know each week could be the last week we come out and play and it seems like everybody on the team has picked up on the urgency.”

That urgency exists for both teams and Adcock said when he looks at Gardendale he sees a team that is much better than its record and has endured some tough times to make the playoffs.

“You watch them on tape, and they’re better than a 6-4 football team,” Adcock said.

Decatur head coach Jere Adcock, left, and Ben Neill discuss game strategy in practice. The Class 5A playoffs start Friday night in Ogle Stadium.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Decatur head coach Jere Adcock, left, and Ben Neill discuss game strategy in practice. The Class 5A playoffs start Friday night in Ogle Stadium.
“I’m very impressed with how they’ve adjusted this season.”

Gardendale was 4-1 before losing starting quarterback Conner McCain to an ankle injury that required surgery. Senior Cameron Brewer has stepped in at quarterback. Brewer was the team’s leading receiver before making the switch in the second half of the regular season.

Players said their attention has been brought to several aspects of Gardendale’s game this week: fast running backs, a big offensive line, exceptional execution.

With Gardendale’s passing game in transition during the quarterback change, running backs Trey Hilliard and Roscoe Ragland have had no trouble rushing behind a strong line to lead the Rockets’ ground attack and keep the offense clicking.

Gardendale has scored 28.6 points a game, including putting up 28 on undefeated sixth-ranked Cullman on Oct. 26, meaning Decatur’s defense, which has allowed 14.5 points a game, will need to be up to its usual standards against the Rockets.

The Red Raiders’ leading tacklers are senior linebacker Tim Witherspoon, junior linebacker Levi Cook, and junior defensive linemen Dewan Troupe and John Alexander.

“Gardendale makes you cover the entire field,” Adcock said.

“We can’t have even one guy make a mistake at his position on defense.”

Decatur’s offense is averaging 30.2 points a game on the strength of a solid running game led by junior Chris Coffey’s 145 carries for 920 yards and six touchdowns, and a balanced passing attack that has consistently been a force.

Sophomore quarterback Ben Neill has connected on 95 of 154 passes for 1,316 yards and 20 touchdowns. Fourteen different Red Raiders have caught passes this season, led by senior Justin Bishop’s 25 catches for 450 yards and five touchdowns. But Gardendale could give that powerful passing attack trouble.

Adcock said the Rockets’ pressure defense has been a weapon all season and is one of the strongest aspects of a defensive attack that has allowed 15.8 points a game.

“Their secondary plays man coverage as well as anyone I’ve seen,” Adcock said.

“They’re almost a clinic tape as to how you play man coverage.”

Adcock said he can usually tell by Wednesday of each week if his team is on the right track and the outlook is positive from the Red Raiders’ coach this week. The Red Raiders are in familiar territory, in the playoffs this season for the 10th time in Adcock’s 12 years as Decatur’s head coach.

“You’re always looking at the end and thinking ‘Where are we going to be at the end? How are we going to stack up?’ ” Adcock said.

“Our coaches have done a good job getting our guys ready physically to a level that we’re ready to play.”

So, the question is not if the Red Raiders are prepared to be among the best in the state, but will Decatur’s best be enough against Gardendale this week?

“We’ve matured a lot. We’ve come a long way,” Sartain said.

“We’ve just got to keep on doing what we’ve done all year and stay focused.

Ogle Stadium game

Who: Gardendale (6-4) at Decatur (9-1).

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Stakes: A loss from here is season-ending for every team in the state. Decatur has exceeded expectations this season, from unranked to No. 5 in the state, and looks to keep a nine-game winning streak alive. Friday’s other games

Class 5A: Hartselle (4-6) at Cullman (10-0).

Class 4A: Priceville (6-4) at St. Clair County (8-2), East Limestone (7-3) at Tarrant (6-4).

Class 3A: Elkmont (5-5) at Sardis (7-3), Clements (5-5) at Plainview (8-2).

Class 2A: West Morgan (6-4) at Woodland (7-3), Ranburne (7-3) at Addison (8-2), Tanner (6-4) at Lineville (5-5).

Class 1A: Donoho (7-3) at Speake (9-1), Appalachian (5-5) at Hazlewood (10-0).

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