Of course every team wants to go undefeated in the regular season.
No team sitting at 9-0 heading into the final game wants to lose. But rather than letting the potential of going 10-0 for the first time since 1991, Reeltown’s football team is focused only on the task at hand.
“Absolutely that’s a goal,” Rebel coach Matt Johnson said. “There’s no doubt that’s one of our goals but as a future goal. We want to go undefeated in the future. Let’s talk about 15-0 rather than talk about 9-0.”
But talking about either 10-0 or 15-0 starts Friday night when the Rebels travel to Ranburne, which just suffered its first loss of the season last week. The Bulldogs (7-1) are sitting just outside the top 10 in the Alabama Sports Writers Association Class 2A poll and there’s a good chance they’ll be the toughest competition thus far for Reeltown (9-0).
“They’re a different beast,” Johnson said. “They’re a lot like us in some aspects — not scheme-wise but just how hard they play. They’re extremely physical. They play with max effort; all 11 guys are going hard. They’re very well-coached. They don’t go away. Definitely by far, they’re the biggest test we’ve had in a while.”
Ranburne’s bread and butter is its run game and there are several strong skill players for the Bulldogs the Rebels will have to be wary of. Ben Jackson and Jaxon Langley seem to split time at quarterback, but it’s the run game Reeltown will have to be on the lookout for. The Bulldogs have attempted only 94 passes all season yet they’ve rushed for nearly 2,000 yards.
Their offensive weapons are vast as well as seven Bulldogs have more than 100 rushing yards. Christian Smith and Gunner Hollis lead the way with 466 and 378 yards, respectively, and Sean Pollard has contributed 228 yards.
“They’ve been running a couple things,” Johnson said. “They’re running the plug-back stuff, kinda like what we do except the scheme is a little bit different, and they play some wing-T. They’ll run some pistol too. They have multiple formations but they do the same things. This is the first time we’ve faced this type of offense this year so that’s another different obstacle in front of our defense.”
Ranburne’s biggest standout on both sides, according to Johnson, is Hollis, who is also by far the leading tackler with 83 on the season.
“In my opinion, he is a really, really good high school football player,” Johnson said. “He really plays hard and you can tell he’s extremely strong. When he blitzes or when he reads and hits a hole, people move. I’m anxious to see what he looks like in person because he’s a strong individual.”
Defensively, Ranburne runs a 3-stack, which is the first time Reeltown will face that type of defense as well. The Rebels certainly have the offensive weapons with guys like Cameron Faison, Iverson Hooks, Eric Shaw and many more to overcome any defense, but it’s going to be a challenge getting the Bulldogs out of what they like to do.
“With a 3-stack, they’re not going to break that stack if they can help it,” Johnson said. “It takes something for them to break it. So us trying to get in our formations and move guys around to try to get them to break their stack will be big. If they break it, then they get back to a 3-4 which is something we’ve seen a lot and it’s a little less complicated to block.”
With Ranburne’s strength on the defensive line, the Rebels will also have a challenge up front. But the Reeltown offensive line, which consists of a rotation of Caleb Gantt, JT Billingsley, LJ Hill, Dee Griffin, Landon Kelly, Nelson Whaley, Landin Rewkowski and Labrian Ponds, has shown consistent improvement throughout the season.
“That’ll be a battle that we have to look at,” Johnson said. “Our offensive line has improved every week and we have three or four offensive linemen that are playing really well right now. But this is different. Their size isn’t near what we saw last week but they make up for it with how quick they move and how hard they play.”