The Hueytown Golden Gophers are headed to Samford University and Seibert Stadium Thursday night to try to upset the #10 Homewood Patriots. Both teams made it to the 2017 playoffs and are looking forward to getting back to the Class 6A playoffs again this season.
Hueytown was 5-6 overall and 2-4 in region play last year and look to improve on that this season. "We have stayed healthy and that is a big issue for us because we have a depth issue," said Golden Gophers Head coach Scott Mansell. "He had a good summer and fall so far this season."
Hueytown brings back quarterback Reid LaFoy. The senior quarterback gained some valuable playing time last year due to injury at that position. "Reid had a lot of reps last season which should give him a lot of confidence coming into this season," added Mansell. "He is a hard worker in the weight room, very strong arm that can make all the throws. His command right now is really good and taking a good leadership role for the team."
At running back, the Gophers have two fine running backs. Roydell Williams and Antonio Mason can do it all on the field. Coach Mansell refers to them as Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown who brought an undefeated season with Auburn University. Last season, both players spelled each other on the field, but this season look for the two backs to play together a lot more on the field. "We know that everyone is going to key on Williams," added Mansell. "We know that that is going to be the game plan to stop Williams but we have ways to get them the football. Were need to be good in our passing game to take the shots when we get them but also good in the intermediate game."
The four-star running back Williams has an impressive sophomore campaign and was a workhorse for the Gophers with 1,585 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns on 205 carries for a whopping 7.7 yards per touch on the ground. The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Williams has offers from Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, Florida, Middle Tennessee, Memphis, Chattanooga and his first SEC offer from Ole Miss. Williams has great vision on the field and will be one of the best in the Class of 2020 in Alabama.
Senior Derrick Smith at wide receiver will play a key role in the Gophers lineup. With the potential of eight men in the box, someone on the outside needs to make plays for the Gophers offense besides Williams and Mason.
The offensive line returns all five lineman which will be a good thing for the Gophers offense. Quindarius Hale and Chandler Byram will lead the Gophers line this season and look to improve on last season. They were a key for Williams to have much success last year.
On defense, Coach Mansell has a lot of confidence in his defensive line this season. DaQuan Jackson is having a great fall camp. Mike Hines fits in the category on having a great fall camp. The most improve player on the defensive side of the ball has been Jalen Boyd and has earned a starting roll in fall camp. Corylann Johnson is a good of a defensive lineman you can have. "One of those kids that does things the right way," said Mansell. "Hard worker, leader and a great kid."
In the secondary is Jordan Ivory. He has done a great job at the corner position but it will be a whole new lineup besides Ivory in the secondary. Look for the Patriots offense to take a few deep shots due to the inexperience at safety for Hueytown.
Keys for Hueytown according to Mansell for Hueytown to be successful is to stay away from the negative plays especially on first down and have a fast start in the game.
For Homewood, the Patriots had a very successful season in 2017. The Patriots went 6-0 in the region and reeling off nine straight wins before the injury bug hit the team and going 1-1 in the playoffs and finished the season at 10-2 overall. This season, the Patriots have to replace 15 starters, but have some key returners. A lot of key players that came off the bench received some good reps. The Patriots have won four out of the last 6 region championships but the team goal is to get to the quarterfinals in the playoffs and get the win and keep it going.
At quarterback, three-year starter Larkin Williams enters his last season as a starter and brings a lot of stability to the Patriots offense. "Larkin has a high football IQ," said Patriots Head coach Ben Burguson. "He possesses information fast and his experience is so valuable and brings a calmness to practice because of all his experience." Williams in his career is 216-for-399 passing for 2,455 yards with 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
At running back, KeOnte Davis and Khardi Dalton will get most of the carries this season. Davis can run inside the tackles or bust one on a pitch on the outside and give out a big blow to an opponent tackler. "KeOnte is very explosive runner while KD has good vision," added Burguson. "We run a lot of zone here so KD jump cuts as good as anyone. KeOnte is very powerful and they are a good 1-2 punch for us." At H-back, Wilson McCraw and Pate Owen will lead the way for Davis and Dalton.
The Patriots have some good lineman to open holes for Davis and Dalton. Grayson Kelley, Will Strong, Jekobie Harris, Elliot Dodson and Lucas Padgett need to stay heathy for the Patriots to keep the strong running game they have. Kelley stands at 6-foot-7 at 330-pounds and leads the offensive line at left tackle and while this might be one of the biggest offensive lines for Homewood in years. "We really havn't been that big in the past in a long time, but we are this year. I looked the other day and we are 280-pounds up front so we are big again," said Burguson. "I'm anxious to see us play Thursday since there are so many of unknowns going into that first game but we had a very good fall camp."
Receivers Marcus McGhee, Wesley Williams, Len Irvine and Trae Ausmer need to give the ground game some help to keep balance on the offensive attack.
On defense John Firnberg, Antonio McGee and Tobias Thomas will be on the defensive front taking on blockers while middle linebacker Crawford Doyle and outside linebacker Traveon Allen look to track down Williams of Hueytown. McGee had 15 tackles for loss last year and this is the best front seven that Burguson has at Homewood in his coaching tenure. Homewood did a great job of stopping the run and help Williams of Hueytown of just 34 yards last year. A must for Homewood to get the win in this game. "I watched their spring game against Pleasant Grove and he (Williams) was very impressive," said Burguson. "I like the other running back in Mason. They are both really good."
At linebacker, Doyle had over 100 tackles last season and looks to improve on that mark. "Crawford is very reactive to the ball, processes things very quickly," said Burguson. "A lot of kids think and reacts but not him. He has a nose for the football. He is good and runs very well and will be all over the field. He would be a good outside linebacker."
In the secondary, Jaden Alexander, Ky Burdeshaw and Michael Kash will roam the secondary looking for big turnovers in this matchup with Hueytown. On special teams that could play an important part of the game. Punter/kicker Lane Gilchrist returns for the Patriots. Gilchrist has a big leg and can kick over 50-yard field goals. Also, Gilchrist can kick the ball in the end zone on kickoffs while starting drives on the 20-yard line while helping out your defense with field position.
For Homewood to have success, they need to run the football against a strong Hueytown defensive line. If Homewood can run the football, it will open things up for Larkin to throw the ball and this will be a key. Depth is a big issue for Homewood and is an issue for both teams in this game.