What seems most notable about J.U. Blacksher is the sheer number of points it puts up. The Bulldogs are averaging more than 36 points per game and have scored at least 38 in seven of their 11 games thus far.
So Reeltown’s defense will certainly have its work cut out for it when it heads to Uriah to take on the Bulldogs in Round 2 of the AHSAA Class 2A football playoffs.
“We’re about to see a whole lot of what we saw against Ranburne,” Reeltown coach Matt Johnson said. “The difference in this week was Ranburne was giving it to a back every single time, but (Blacksher) has a quarterback that can do it all too. They have two guys back there and you don’t know which one they’re going to go to. What’s been our weakness the past couple weeks has to be our strengths in order for us to be successful offensively.”
That weakness the Rebels (10-1) have been keying in on is setting the edge. In a 3-4 defense, Reeltown doesn’t have any huge any linemen and it needs everyone to be involved on setting the edge and forcing Blacksher (9-2) to be one dimensional.
“Guys that typically aren’t physical have to be physical in what they do,” Johnson said. “With our personnel, we don’t have a bunch of big defensive linemen. We have three linemen and two outside linebackers who have to set the edge and our safeties have to be involved in (defending) the run game.”
And with several weapons at the Bulldogs’ disposal, the Rebels are going to have a lot to key in on. The offense is managed by KD Rabb, who has proven to be a dual-threat quarterback. Dorien Quarles and Jaiveyon Tucker are a tight end and wide receiver who are listed at 6-foot-4 and 6-3, respectively. Ja’Daniel Nettles isn’t a huge running back, but what he lacks in size, he makes up for with shiftiness and tenacity.
“(James Spence) is their bell cow; I’m probably more impressed with him than anything,” Johnson said. “He’s not going to jump out on film because he doesn’t look like their other guys as far as stature. But he does a little bit of everything and he’s a heckuva blocker. He’s very physical. I have yet to see him take a play off; he’s playing like it’s his last game every game. He also plays linebacker, and he’s their best defensive player, I would say.”
But if there’s a team that can match Blacksher’s explosiveness offensively and its sheer number in its arsenal, it’s Reeltown. The Rebels are averaging 37.0 points per game and have yet to be held under 18 points — and that was in the first game of the season.
And the good thing about Reeltown is it has two very different offensive strategies, both of which it can employ depending on how its defense is playing.
“If we can’t handle them from a defensive standpoint, then we’re going to have to try to sustain some drives and control the clock, get in some bone and grind it out,” Johnson said. “But we’d like not to do that. We’d like to be able to do what we do offensively and our defense has a good game, but they’re dangerous offensively. They really are.”
It also may not just come down to offense and defense. At this point, Reeltown knows every team is going to be good. The Rebels aren’t going to be able to walk over an opponent like they did a week ago. That being said, they’ve put a focus on special teams and improving their kicking team. And another strong piece of the puzzle is Reeltown’s not-so-secret weapon, Connor Moore. While a lot of teams, especially in 2A, struggle with their point-after games, that’s not a fear for the Rebels.
“It never crosses my mind when we line up for an extra point that we could miss it, and that’s a reflection of him,” Johnson said.
Because Blacksher upset Abbeville in the first round, the Rebels will be on the road this week. But the nearly two-hour drive doesn’t worry Johnson. Reeltown will leave around lunchtime, stop in Greenville and get to Uriah in plenty of time to get a feel for the field and get warmed up.
The most important focus will be knowing it’s do or die time.
“There are no redos,” Johnson said. “At this point now, everybody is good. Anybody can get beat at any point in time. There’s no team where you’re just going to walk through them. There won’t be any more of (what we had last week).”