Had Reeltown won last week in its regular-season football finale, Rebel coach Matt Johnson likely would’ve wanted to carry that momentum straight into the playoffs.
But it didn’t work out that way for the Rebels, so they’re using their Week 10 bye to refocus before trying to make a run at the state championship starting next week.
“With the situation that we’re in right now, I feel real good about (the timing of the bye week),” Johnson said. “It’s a refocus as a whole program. Our kids get to refocus. As a staff, it made us refocus. (Monday) on both sides of the ball, we went back to the basics. That was the most fundamentals we’ve done on defense in a long time. It was back to ground zero; we took it down to there and then we’ll build it back up.”
The bye week will mostly be business as usual for Reeltown except the Rebels will take Wednesday off after a half-day at school. But rather than game planning for an opponent, this is the first time since the regular season began the Rebels will really have a chance to focus on themselves.
Not only does Johnson want to use the time for that, it’s also difficult to game plan when the Rebels’ first-round opponent hasn’t been decided yet. Reeltown matches up with the No. 4 seed out of Region 3, which had a bit of a shakeup after the AHSAA announced last week Highland Home had to forfeit six games due to an ineligible player. Because of that, Highland Home has dropped out of playoff contention and now the No. 4 seed of that region will come down to either New Brockton, Samson, Zion Chapel or Central Hayneville. New Brockton and Samson still have to play each other then it will come down to non-region tiebreakers to determine the No. 4 seed.
“We’re going to focus on us regardless,” Johnson said.
Although Reeltown is sitting at 9-1 and is currently ranked No. 7 in Class 2A by the Alabama Sports Writers Association, it is far from perfect. One of the biggest positives in the loss from Ranburne is Johnson said it gave the Rebels a lot to focus on before the postseason begins.
“This is the first game where we can sit down and point out a whole bunch of things we did wrong, that we got exposed on,” Johnson said. “This is the first opponent for some really good players to hear criticism in front of everybody, so they need to handle it. It ain’t nothing personal but we’re going to get better.”
Probably the biggest takeaway from the loss to the Bulldogs was Reeltown’s lack of proper tackling, especially in the first half. Ranburne got countless yards after contact and many of its receiving yards came after breaking a tackle or more.
Another issue is special teams.
“Our kickoff coverage will be fixed by next week; I can almost guarantee that because that’s a problem,” Johnson said. “Last week, we take the lead with 2 ½ minutes left to go in the game and I don’t feel comfortable kicking it deep. We’re giving teams the ball on average at the 38-yard line. If we could’ve kicked it deep and pinned them at the 20, things could’ve been a little bit different.”
But with every negative Reeltown still have to improve, there are plenty of positives. The Rebels are healthy as they’ve ever been under Johnson this late in the season and the bye week should help them get players with even small nagging injuries back to 100%. Plus, Reeltown is extremely well balanced on offense and showed off even more of what it could do last week against Ranburne by putting Cameron Faison on the edge and moving Johnny Brown in to running back. And the defense is simple but strong.
Likely the biggest test of the bye week for the Rebels will be if they can put the loss behind them and use it as a tool to get better.
“This senior group, (the loss) hurt them,” Johnson said. “They obviously wanted to go undefeated but the main thing is still out there. And this is a mature enough group that they understand that.”