It’s hard to say the first game of the region schedule is possibly the most important, but the way things are stacking up in Class 6A Region 3, it’s very likely Benjamin Russell’s first region football game against Stanhope Elmore could be especially important.
It might be more important for the team that ends up on the losing side though.
“You don’t want to get put behind the eight ball,” BRHS coach Kevin Smith said. “That’s what you’re looking at. If you do come out on the bad side of this one, whether it’s us or them, that person is looking at an uphill battle.”
Both Opelika and Wetumpka, which also compete in 6A Region 3, are both ranked in the top 10 of the Class 6A according to the latest Alabama Sports Writers Association, so they seem to be the favorites to take the top two spots in the region. Last year, Benjamin Russell finished fourth in the region after losing to SEHS.
“We don’t know really how good any of us are though,” Smith said. “We really don’t know how good Wetumpka is. We think we know how good Opelika is, but they’re not unbeatable either. But more so than winning and losing, we need to come out and execute our role whatever that role may be.”
Regardless of what’s coming down the pike in the region, Benjamin Russell needs to take care of business against the Mustangs before it thinks about anything else.
And the most threating thing about Stanhope Elmore (1-1) is clearly its defense. Starting on the line for the Mustangs are TJ Jackson, William Whitlow Jr. and Caleb Foster.
“Everybody knows the defensive front; they’re really good on the line,” Smith said. “They have some guys that have gotten some looks. They’re just big and fast and they play hard; they’re relentless.”
SEHS’ defense should be relatively familiar with Benjamin Russell as it is under the direction of defensive coordinator Hunter Adams, who was the linebackers coach at BRHS when Smith was the DC.
Offensively, the Mustangs have been relatively one-dimensional so far this season, but they’ll be looking to change that against Benjamin Russell (1-1). Andrew Rines has taken over at quarterback, and Conner Bradford is a big threat at receiver.
“On offense, they do what their talent lets them do and I think they’re very good up front,” Smith said. “They have a lot of big bodies. That’s kind of their theme: They have a lot of size. They didn’t really have a quarterback until this year but I think they’ve found a guy. He seems to really have a control on their offense. (Bradford) can really go.”
The Wildcats also need to be wary of Tray Duncan, the Mustangs’ biggest offensive weapon at running back.
For Benjamin Russell, it’ll need to really focus on getting back to the things it did well against Beauregard in Week 0. A lot of what makes the Wildcats go is creating space with their short passes, which stops opposing defenses from stacking the box.
“Our biggest thing last week — everything went back to this — was we’ve got to block on the perimeter,” Smith said. “Our whole thing is we need to get athletes in space and when we get them out in space, we get defensive linemen running. That’s when you start opening things up. It all works together. If we can’t do what we want (in space), we’re not built to just pound you inside.”
Smith feels confident about the status of quarterback Carter Smith, who was being evaluated Thursday afternoon, and said offensive lineman Joe Young, who will be essential against Stanhope’s threatening defensive line, was probable.
Although there wasn’t much to smile about last week, Ryan Willis did have a strong game and coach Smith will rely on him to do much of the same tonight.
“He blocks well,” Smith said. “He’s probably our best blocker on the perimeter. He typically has good hands and he does a good job of catching it and getting up field. That’s how our offense is built. We love explosive players, but what we really want is to get the ball and get 4 yards.”
STANHOPE ELMORE AT BENJAMIN RUSSELL
Game data: Stanhope Elmore Mustangs at Benjamin Russell Wildcats … Tonight, 7 p.m. … Class 6A Region 3 game.
Media: Join us live on Facebook at 6 p.m. for Inside the Lines Live with Lizi Arbogast and Scott Hardy … Follow @liziarbogast on Twitter for live updates throughout the game … Listen live on Kowaliga Country 97.5 in Alexander City.
Teams: The Mustangs (1-1) are coming off a 42-0 loss against rival Prattville Christian … Clay Central got the best of Benjamin Russell (1-1) a week ago, 38-14.
Series: The Wildcats lead the series, 12-10, but Stanhope won last year’s meeting, 19-0.
Prediction: Benjamin Russell 18, Stanhope Elmore 14.