Dadeville head coach Roger McDonald said it’s an honor for his team to even make the AHSAA state football playoffs.
That doesn’t mean the Tigers haven’t spent countless hours planning and practicing ways to advance out of the first round, however.
It may be hitting the road as underdogs but Dadeville has the benefit of a bye last week entering its matchup with Slocomb Friday, and the Tigers are intent on attacking the Red Tops and seeing if they can’t start a run.
“You’ve always gotta look at being in the playoffs as a reward for your hard work,” McDonald said. “But we had an off week last week, so we’ve kind of had two weeks to prepare for Slocomb. Kids have worked really hard, had a good week last week and a good day today.”
Slocomb emerged as the top seed from Class 3A, Region 2 to meet Dadeville, the fourth seed from Class 3A, Region 4.
The two sides’ records are only separated by half a game, with the Tigers playing one less game than the Red Tops to finish 6-3 as opposed to 7-3.
Slocomb went just 2-3 across its first five games before closing the back half of its season 5-0, with only one opponent coming within less than 28 points of a victory.
“When you look at them, other than the quarterback and the running back and a couple of kids on defense, they don’t look overwhelming,” McDonald said. “But they play so hard and they’re so well-coached, they’re gonna put it in (running back Jaylen) Nobles’ hands every play. And he’s good enough, if you don’t tackle him, he’ll beat you by himself.”
Offensively, the Red Tops run a pretty unique system.
Starting quarterback Caulin Thomas has been out since Week 7, and rather than replace him with a backup gunslinger, Slocomb runs what is essentially a wildcat every play with Nobles behind center in shotgun and running back Rashawn Miller alongside him.
Nobles is far more likely to take off running from the set than he is to throw the ball, as the Red Tops have gone to the ground 389 times this year compared to 100 passes. Nobles has only thrown 34 of those balls.
He and Miller have been a dynamic one-two punch this season out of the backfield, both with over 800 rushing yards on more than six yards per carry, running behind a zone blocking scheme.
“He actually throws the ball well, and they try to get it to (Miller) when they’re throwing the ball, they’ll move him out and go empty,” McDonald said of Nobles. “They run the midline option, they run the zone read, they run the stretch to the running back. They don’t ask their linemen to really knock people off the ball, they tell them to get on people, stay on people, move their feet.”
While this certainly won’t be Dadeville’s first road game of 2021, it is by far the furthest the Tigers have had to travel.
The bus ride from their high school to Slocomb’s will take more than three hours, covering more than 140 miles to a stone’s throw from the Alabama-Florida line.
Such a trek won’t bother Dadeville though, McDonald said. He feels his team is prepared and the distance won’t make an impact on its play.
What could are some injuries to a few undisclosed key players. However, that’s a near state-wide standard for this time of year, McDonald noted.
“We’re like everybody else, a lot of people with injuries, a lot of people beat up this time of year,” McDonald said. “And we’ve got the same thing.”
Once off the bus, Dadeville will get to work on its usual gameplan: Wearing down its opponent with a smash-mouth running game and physical 4-4 defense.
The Tigers’ offensive line is highlighted by a couple big-bodied seniors in Caleb Webb and Colin Goodwin, but will have quite the challenge to face in Slocomb’s 3-4 front, which can mix looks often and features two linebackers with more than 60 tackles this season in Braylon Miller and Asael Morin.
The Red Tops kept five opponents to seven points or less this year.
“We told our kids, ‘We’ve gotta get back to playing physical football like we did in the first half of the season,’” McDonald said. “We’ve got to play physical on both sides of the ball and we’ve got to tackle well on defense. We don’t play physical on both sides and we don’t tackle, we won’t win.”
Kickoff between Slocomb and Dadeville is at 7 p.m. at Slocomb Red Tops Football Field.