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The Decatur Red Raiders (10-1) host Benjamin Russell (9-2) at 7 p.m. Friday at Ogle Stadium in the second round of the Class 5A state playoffs.
A 2nd-round hurdle
Decatur's high-octane offense meets stingy defense at Ogle in Class 5A playoffs
By Brooke Milam
firstname.lastname@example.org · 340-2460
Something will have to give Friday night at Ogle Stadium.
When the Decatur Red Raiders (10-1) host Benjamin Russell (9-2) in the second round of the Class 5A state playoffs, it will be Decatur’s high-powered offense, averaging 29.3 points a game, against a Benjamin Russell defense that has posted four shutouts this season and allowed only 10 points a game.
Kickoff is 7 p.m.
A Decatur team that has proven itself all season will face its highest-stakes contest yet, and sophomore quarterback Ben Neill said he knows the Red Raiders’ offense will have one of its toughest tasks of the season.
“We have to show up,” Neill said.
For Decatur it’s a chance to overcome a second-round obstacle.
A steady presence in the playoffs, Decatur lost to the eventual state champions every season from 1997-2000, and head coach Jere Adcock said it adds something special to a season to be able to call your team “a quarterfinalist.”
The Red Raiders have not advanced past the second round since 2002, when they lost to Mountain Brook in the quarterfinals.
“I think if you get to that third round, I think that makes more of an impact,” Adcock said.
The last time the Benjamin Russell advanced past the second round was 2005, when it made it to the semifinals.
The Wildcats have had a strong season under first-year head coach Mike McCombs, who took over for Willie Carl Martin, now on Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama. Benjamin Russell’s rich postseason history includes 12 straight trips to the playoffs, winning a 5A state championship in 2001, and finishing runner-up in 2000 and 6A runner-up in 1997.
Decatur was fifth in the final Alabama Sports Writers Association poll of the season, while the Wildcats received votes all season but never broke into the top 10.
Benjamin Russell only has fallen to top-ranked 5A Briarwood Christian and 3A No. 2 Clay County, finishing second in 5A, Region 5.
Three of the four playoff qualifiers from Region 5 won their opening round game — Benjamin Russell, Briarwood, and Chelsea — as did three qualifiers from Region 8 — region champion Decatur, Russellville and J.O. Johnson.
The stingy Wildcats run a 3-3 defense, the same system the Red Raiders faced in wins against Gardendale and Hartselle this season, posting 20 and 31 points, respectively.
Junior linebacker Akaris Daniels leads the Wildcats in tackles with 86 total stops, 14 for lost yardage, three forced fumbles and eight sacks.
Decatur boasts a stout defense of its own, giving up 14.8 points a game, and will have to be at its best again this week.
“(Benjamin Russell) throws the ball really well,” Adcock said. “They are very, very spread out.”
Wildcats senior quarterback Casey Cutts has completed 120 of 181 passes, a 66.3 percent completion rate, for 1,468 yards and 13 touchdowns.
He has been intercepted just four times.
Cutts also leads the team in rushing with 137 carries for 561 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Cutts handles punting duties for Benjamin Russell, averaging 32 yards per punt.
Earlier in the season, Adcock said he wanted “people that come back to be proud of the guys on that field and say, ‘Those are the kind of guys I want representing me.’ ”
The Red Raiders have another chance to do that Friday night.
And after checking off goals of a winning season, making the playoffs and a region championship, the next wish on Decatur’s list is a trip to the quarterfinals.
“We’ve had some good teams, but we haven’t been there in awhile,” Adcock said. “There does seem to be something special about making it to the quarterfinals.”
Ogle Stadium game
Who: Benjamin Russell (9-2) at Decatur (10-1).
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Stakes: A win for the Red Raiders would put Decatur in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2002. Benjamin Russell looks to continue improving its finish from last season, when it lost to Hartselle in the first round. The Wildcats made the semifinals in 2005.
Friday’s other games
Class 4A: Deshler (9-2) at East Limestone (8-3).
Class 2A: Addison (9-2) at J.B.Pennington (8-3), Fyffe (11-0) at Tanner (7-4).
Class 1A: Speake (10-1) at Sulligent (10-1), Hazlewood (11-0) at Gaston (8-3).
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