The one and only way Benjamin Russell’s hopes for the football playoffs can stay alive is with a victory tonight.
The Wildcats will have to win out in their last two Class 6A Region 3 games to have a chance at clinching a playoff spot, and that starts tonight against Wetumpka.
Wetumpka (3-4, 1-2) is in unfamiliar territory after making back-to-back deep playoff runs the last two seasons but now the Indians are in a similar boat to Benjamin Russell. Wetumpka’s journey is a little easier as it needs just one win to clinch a spot, but there’s a lot more on the line for tonight’s game than what fans originally expected when the season started.
“We all kinda are (thinking about the playoff implications) but what we’re trying to do is not keep that in the forefront,” Benjamin Russell coach Kevin Smith said. “You can’t focus on that. If you’re always worried about (what’s going to happen), you tend to kind of self-fulfill. There’s always that in the back of your mind but you want to stay focused on the main thing which is doing our job.”
Big plays have been the Achilles’ heel for the Wildcats (3-4, 0-3) all season and they’ll have to be very wary of that against Wetumpka. Scoring in bunches like the Indians have done the past few seasons isn’t necessarily a threat but scoring via the deep threat is certainly something Wetumpka can do.
“Their offense is self-explanatory,” Smith said. “They go as (quarterback) Tyquan Rawls goes. He’s a phenomenal athlete but he can throw it also. He has good weapons on the outside he can throw it to. So what we’re looking at stopping on our defensive side of the ball is we’re going to try to minimize the big play.
“They seem to be a team that doesn’t thrive on long drives. It’s a couple of big plays and then they’ll hit you for 25-plus yards. But a lot of times with their athletes, that 25-yarder turns into their band playing.”
Despite Wetumpka not being as prolific as it has been in years past offensively, the Indians have still scored at least 13 points in every game and are averaging more than 30 points per contest. But the Wildcats feel comfortable in what their defense is doing. If they can keep it close early, they’ll have a much better shot at being able to compete with Wetumpka.
Defensively, the Indians have shown some signs of weakness with defending against the rush while Benjamin Russell has proven it can use its running attack to its advantage.
“That is our identity but I’m sure (Wetumpka) coach (Tim) Perry knows that,” Smith said. “The one proud thing I am from last week is I don’t think I’ve ever been on a staff that ran for 250 yards on Opelika and we did that. But I’m sure they’re looking at us and saying, ‘That’s what we have to stop,’ and we haven’t shown anybody yet that we can consistently throw the ball.”
Despite changing some things up offensively in the second half against Opelika, the Wildcats will continue to start Carter Smith at quarterback but there have been some personnel changes that should help. Gavin Edwards and Denzel Greene have both been practicing at receiver to try to add some more deep threats for Smith to target.
The Wildcats will also see the return of Quin Hutchins, who was slated to be the starting center before hurting his knee at the beginning of the season and missing five games. He’s been moved to the B-back, or what most teams called the H-back.
“That will give us a whole different personnel,” coach Smith said. “It’s going to look a lot different there and we’re hoping that is going to give us some success. Being able to have him in there on some of our roll out stuff, now we’ll have two guys blocking on the edge.”
Defensive end Colby Ford is out with a concussion and he’ll be replaced by a combination of Gavin Vickers and Joe Young.
But regardless of who’s playing where, Smith is confident in the way his team is playing right now and he’s just looking to make sure it stays competitive throughout.
“If we can avoid (giving them anything), I think we can play a game that we want to play and they don’t want to play,” Smith said. “Now if we get into one of those track meets and we get into their game, it’s not something we can do.”