Things weren’t always smooth for Reeltown football this season.
The Rebels opened the year with a 1-3 record that included a loss to rival Tallasse, with all three losses coming by at least three touchdowns and the lone victory by a single point.
“A lot of times when you lose that game, people just don’t recover from it,” Reeltown head coach Matt Johnson said. “I had some concerns about that early on. But guys, they flipped a switch.”
Reeltown closed its regular season 5-1 with a dominant win over another heated rival and its lone defeat came at the hands of undefeated Trinity Presbyterian in a tight 17-14 affair. A 6-5 record, the second best of any team covered by the Outlook by half a game, secured a playoff berth for the Rebels in their second season since moving up from Class 2A to Class 3A.
Reeltown beat the squad with that top record in Dadeville when the two teams met.
For the way his team unified over the course of the season, Johnson has been named the Alexander City Outlook’s Coach of the Year.
“The most special thing about this year was just our growth,” Johnson said. “We talk all the time about playing your best ball at the right time and we did that. We made huge strides in 3A ball from last year to this year. We felt like we may have let a couple games slip away from us early on, one of those being the Trinity game, and we used that failure and turned it into something positive.”
The Rebel’s offense had to move the ball in a myriad of ways this year.
When he was healthy they could rely on star running back Dakarian “Juicy” Hughley to pick up consistent yardage and generate big plays. He gathered 281 yards in the team’s 22-21 victory at Childersburg in Week 3 and 195 yards with four total touchdowns, one on kick return, when they beat rival Dadeville 36-14.
A pair of injuries took him out of four total games, though, including the final two for the Rebels.
Johnson and his staff opened the passing game up at Class 5A Holtville and senior wide receiver Marcus Haynes gobbled up 227 receiving yards in just five receptions with four touchdowns, catching some beautiful tosses from senior quarterback Gabe Bryant.
Reeltown won the game 40-26.
“They gave us some things that we liked,” Johnson said after the contest. “We came out and established the run and the way we were able to run the ball effectively to start with kind of made them load the box on us, and that created a matchup that we liked. Gabe then made some beautiful passes and Marcus made some really beautiful catches.”
They were putting up such numbers against, mostly, opponents with winning records. Johnson said he’d put the Rebels’ schedule “up against anyone else’s in the state.” Only one Class 3A playoff team had a better combined opponent’s record than Reeltown.
A three-hour trek to Opp in the first round of the playoffs ended in a 35-6 defeat to close Reeltown’s season. Four big impact players, including Hughley and multiple two-way starters, were out for that game, Johnson noted.
“It really depleted our playoff run because we thought we had a chance to make some noise,” Johnson said. “Injury bug just caught us at the wrong time.”
Johnson credited his players for the success Reeltown found to close its campaign and make the postseason.
“This was a really great group of seniors who are going to make a lot of noise after high school in whatever profession or career field they end up doing,” Johnson said. “There’s some great young men that I’m extremely proud of that have really overcome a lot of adversity the last couple years.
“The only reason I’m Coach of the Year is because of the team. That’s all I want to talk about is those guys. They deserve all the credit.”
Bryant, Haynes, Hughley, star lineman Dee “Alpha Dawg” Griffin and key two-way starter Matt Knox are among a key core of departing seniors for the Rebels.
They’ll have a few crucial players back though, including lineman Logan Dillard, defensive back Arthur Woods and defensive backs Zy Collins and Xavier Thomas returning in search of another playoff berth, however.