On Friday night, the Hueytown Golden Gophers travel to Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa to play the Patriots in a key Class 6A, Region 4 contest. Both teams are coming off region wins, and the winner of this game will have a leg up on the region title.
Hueytown (1-2, 1-0) defeated Brookwood 56-0 and looks to take the momentum into this game. To start the season, Hueytown faced two top teams in Class 5A, Ramsay and Clay-Chalkville. The Gophers have struggled on offense in those two games but had a good game against Brookwood. The Hueytown defense is excellent and must play huge in this region battle with Hillcrest.
One bright spot for the Hueytown offense is Jebron Ellington. Ellington has tremendous speed and can get significant gains when he finds that hole. "We didn't give Jebron great protection (against Ramsay), but he took it in stride and didn't complain," added Patterson. "We dropped some of his balls, tucked and ran it when he had to. He was pounded a few times but is not in the position we are concerned about Friday night. When Jabron commits to run the ball, he has high-level speed."
Running back Ja'Khael Rowser is one of the best versatile backs in Class 6A. He can catch it out of the backfield or in the slot and run it out of those two positions. He has speed and quickness with great pass-catching hands. Rowser played his first game of the season against Brookwood last week. "He gives us so many more options when he is on the field," said Gophers head coach Greg Patterson. "We want to get the ball in the playmakers' hands. Most people don't understand his leadership quality to our team. We miss that, a four-year starter, and we are very inexperienced on that side of the ball." Elijia Hudson filled on for Rowser was out and received some good playing time with Ellington in the backfield.
Wide receiver Dacorion "Peanut" Thomas is another solid weapon for the Gophers. Thomas has unbelievable speed on the outside. "Peanut is very fast and is another senior that played a good bit last year," said Patterson. "He has to take over that leadership role when Rowser is out of the game. That is a little new territory for him, but the sky is his limit. He runs excellent routes and can catch the ball most of the time for us. We have challenged him to step into that leadership role with Jabron this week." In some plays, you will see Thomas in the backfield running the football. With Thomas at receiver, Quentrell Jackson, Noah Armstrong, and TJ Howell will get playing time.
The offensive line is very inexperienced and needs to improve each week. Hueytown knows they need more explosive plays on offense, and that falls on the Gophers offensive line to give protection to the skilled players. Micah Hatcher, Brian Youngblood, Gerald Owens, Erik Miles, and Don Roller must have a big game for the Gophers.
The Hueytown front four is one of the best in Class 6A. Defensive lineman Keith Green has a high motor and makes plays all over the field. Green is only 6 feet, and if he were two inches taller, he would be a D-1 prospect. "He is a special player," added Patterson. "If any of you college guys come, tell me that he is a heck of a player, but he is not big enough. You need to check your recruiting board cause this guy can play. Colleges need to take a good look at Keith. Somebody is going to get a great player and a great person."
Against Clay-Chalkville, the Hueytown defense only gave up a field goal against one of the best offensive lines in the state. With Green on the defensive front are Kole Caldwell, Jordyn Jackson, Christian Williams, and Kelvin Cook. Linebackers Ryall Hall, Perry Thompson, Jacob Hanberry, and Alex Vassar get playing time. Kole Caldwell is another defensive lineman who gets in the backfield regularly.
The secondary has OJ Sealie, Kam Kynard, Juquarius Brooks, and Artrell Andrews in the defense's back end. Sealie and Kynard have the experience and will play a vital role against the Patriots passing attack.
Diego Torres handles the kicking duties and is a pretty solid kicker inside of 40-yards.
The Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa Patriots are coming off a 48-3 win over cross-town rival Northridge. It was all Hillcrest in the region win, and they hope to keep building off their victories. "You are always looking for that identity about your team when you start the season," said Patriots head coach Jamie Mitchell. "Learning about some playmakers we might have and how to disperse the ball to them. We have been incredibly good on defense, and we thought we would be. Still an act in progress, but I like where we are right now in the season."
The Patriots offense is scoring over 41 points per game in three games. Quarterback Bryson Kimbrough leads the way for the Patriots offense. "Bryson is such a thinker and a studier of the game," added Mitchell. "He has a great tool set and understands what we are doing is really at the next level. He does a great job of understanding the parameters that we want to be in. He is good with his legs, but his overall strength is understanding of the game, understanding coverages and fronts and is very gifted in that area."
The running game took a hit in the first game of the season, losing Jayshon Land to an injury, but he has a chance to get back to the field very soon. With him out the first three games, Decorrion Thomas moved over from receiver and inserted freshman Christian Richey. "Because of our lack of depth at running back, never in our wildest dreams did we think a freshman would be playing at running back," said Mitchell. "We don't ever do that, but when Jayshow went down, we decided to play him, and he has earned a ton of trust. He is going to be an outstanding player for us."
Jay Brown is one running back who has carried the load for the Patriots. Brown transferred back from Hale County for his senior season. "Jay played a bigger role when Jayshow went out those early games and has passed the test with flying colors," said Mitchell. "I don't know what we would have done without him. He is not a stranger to the things we do. What a blessing to have him back this season." Brown can run tackle to tackle and does a great job getting to the second level, where he makes it hard for smaller players trying to tackle him.
The receivers' core starts with big-time player Jamarcus Prince. "He is a freak of talent," added Mitchell. "For some reason, he is one of the most under recruited player I've had in a long time. He is a better person than a player but a phenomenal player. There is no question he is the leader of the group." Prince has excellent hands in traffic and can high-point the ball with the best of them. Khaden Smith is another great receiver with good hands and great speed. Look for him to go in the wildcat position a few times during a game. Wide receiver Chamar Moore and tight end Jackson Henderson get playing time for the Patriots.
Another piece to the Patriots' offense is defensive back Travaris Banks. The Ole Miss commitment will get regular playing time with the Patriots' offense. "That is definitely in the cards," said Mitchell. "When the weather cools off, when he can play some more snaps, you will see more and more of him on offense. He will play wide receiver and running back. We don't have anyone else like him, so that he can do a lot of things for us. He is so versatile that he plays corner, safety, and offense. He can do a lot of different things. He can contribute in many ways at the next level."
The offensive line of Andreas Ross, Shawn Rogers, Kyson Bishop, Rylan Bell, and Sean Franklin have done an excellent job for the Patriots this season.
The Patriots defense has been stingy, only giving up three points per game. Defensive lineman TJ Grant leads the way for the Patriots defense. "TJ has played a lot of football for us," said Mitchell. "He is a soft-spoken guy, but he has been in many battles with us. He is a steady player and the rock of the group. Proud of him and a great person as well."
With Grant on the defensive line are Tyler Taylor, Matthew Cockrell, Jalen McIver, Kindal Moorehead, and Tayvion Johnson. Linebackers Matthew Walker, Evan Williams, and Zamarion Jackson lead the way for the Patriots linebacking core.
The secondary has Banks and Jimmy Rice-Edison at cornerback, along with Barkley Crawford and Kamari Patton at safeties. Kicker Hudson Hall handles the kicking duties for the Patriots.
Two good defenses will battle it out Friday night. The Hueytown offense needs to make some big plays to keep this game close and clean up the special teams mistakes they made against Clay-Chalkville a couple of weeks ago.