Kenneth Boone / Tallapoosa Publsihers Elmore County's Keshawn Benson carries the ball.

Getting in the win column was important for Elmore County’s football team but now the Panthers want to take the momentum from its first victory back into Class 4A Region 4 play as they host Handley on Friday night. The Panthers will likely need to win their final three region games to secure a playoff spot and Elmore County coach Jordan Cantrell is hoping last week’s win will give his team the spark it will need.

“Our practices haven’t been dead even with the rough times we have had but hopefully this will give us some extra energy,” Cantrell said. “You can always use that at this point in the season.”

Cantrell said he is not trying to put any extra pressure on the players but they understand what is on the line.

“We’re just taking it one game at a time,” Cantrell said. “The road ahead is not easy and we know that. We have a tough group that works hard but they know what’s at stake. Anything can happen in this region, we saw that last year. Our guys are going to be up for the test.”

Handley (3-2, 2-0) is coming off of a 20-15 loss against Lanett but the Tigers have rolled through their first two region games, including a dominant win against Holtville, which defeated the Panthers last month. The Tigers have outscored their region opponents, 77-12.

“They are really good,” Cantrell said. “They have players at every position and have no weak spots. But I do think styles of play make games and hopefully that will help us out. I don’t think our guys will be intimidated by anybody we play. They are always up to compete.”

Elmore County (1-4, 0-3) will have a number of athletes to compete against but the main focus for the defense will be slowing down Handley running back Devontae Houston. In Handley’s three wins, Houston has rushed for 746 yards and 10 touchdowns.

“He’s a guy that is so dang fast it almost looks fake on film,” Cantrell said. “You’re not going to be able to mimic that in practice. You have to bring a lot to the party to stop the running game so that’s what we are planning on doing. You have to make sure your eyes are on him.”

On the defensive side, Handley boasts one of the best players in the state with 5-star defensive end Dylan Brooks. Listed at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, Brooks is a force as a receiver as well as on the defensive line. Elmore County wants to continue its attack on the ground but the Panthers will have to find a way to slow Brooks.

“You have to game plan around him and try to use his aggressiveness to our favor,” Cantrell said. “Our guys will be up to the task. It’s fun to play against good opponents so it will be fun for our guys to see how they match up with a guy like that.”

Cantrell said he is hoping his players will take pride in going up against such a highly-touted recruit.

“Go compete and go show the 5-star up,” Cantrell said. “That should motivate you. I know it would motivate me if I was a player.”

While getting a region win is the top priority, the Panthers also want to see their rare home losing streak come to an end. Elmore County is facing its longest losing streak at Burt-Haynie Field since 2016.

“We have great support from the community and from the school so it would be great to get a win at home but we just know we have to win a football game,” Cantrell said. “We have to go out on the field and compete no matter where we are.”

PREDICTION: Handley 34, Elmore County 21

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.