By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
GOOD HOPE —
After a bumpy two-year stint in Class 4A and rough reintroduction to 3A football, Good Hope’s 13 seniors are pleased to be playing in the postseason for the first time in their prep careers.
Justin Turner, one of those student-athletes set to graduate in the spring, isn’t content with just making the playoffs, though. Now he wants to make a statement, which the Raiders (7-3) will have an opportunity to do when they travel to No. 3 Saks Friday night for a first-round contest.
“We’ve worked really hard this season to get to this point. We want to make it all the way. We don’t want to go out the first week,” Turner said. “We haven’t had this chance and the school hasn’t had this chance in forever, so we want to make the best of it for the school and our community.”
Coach Chris Moss had no problem admitting his Red and White squad are the underdogs against Saks, which walloped 4A Jacksonville 48-15 to secure a perfect regular season. He’s also well aware only one team’s even kept it close with the Wildcats — Glencoe fell 39-28 in Week 6 — who enter the first-ever meeting between the programs sporting a 33-point average margin of victory.
Don’t think for a second those concessions mean Moss doesn’t have confidence in his players, though.
“Obviously we’re four and they’re one,” he said of the contenders’ rankings in their respective regions. “We tell our kids that’s why we play the games. If they looked at us and said, ‘Y’all are four and they’re one,’ and then went through the brackets, nobody would ever win or lose. They’ve got just as much of a chance as anybody.
“Our kids have just got to believe in themselves, believe that they can win. Negativity in your mind is tough to overcome. If you don’t believe in yourself, who is going to? I believe in these kids. We feel like our guys will get up for this game and play to the best of their ability.”
Sure, it’ll be a tall task to take down Saks, but Turner certainly doesn’t see it as impossible.
“Any team can be beat on any given day,” he said. “We know they’re going to be tough, but we’re just going to try to do the best we can to get the job done.”
While the Wildcats undoubtedly bring a solid defense to the table — the unit yielded just 129 points this season — their bread and butters appears to truly lie with their high-flying offense. Saks has scored in the 60s twice, in the 40s five times and never lower than 34 in its other three ballgames to account for a sky-high 46-point average.
Turner tried to keep his ideas to slow down quarterback Tremon Smith and the Wildcats fairly simple.
“We’ve got to try to stop their big-play offense on defense and get some points on the board on offense,” he said. “That’s pretty much the gameplan.”
Moss was practically on the same page.
“Really, you have to play assignment football. If it turns into a track meet, we’re not very good at track,” the coach said with a chuckle. “We’ve got to make sure our kids do their job, contain their quarterback and establish drives to keep the ball out of their hands. We feel like we have enough weapons to move down the field on them. We just have to do it.”
And Moss is right. Like Saks, Good Hope has kept its scoreboard operator busy on a nightly basis. Behind quarterback Sebastion Fendley, running back Jared McClure and a host of receivers in Austin Crumbley, Chris Raper, Turner and Kainan Smith, the Raiders topped 60 points in their season opener and went on to average 31 for the entire regular season.
Even with 2A West End doing its best to keep the ball for as long as possible last Friday, Good Hope still managed to post 28 points en route to the victory.
Turner played his part in the winning effort by pulling down his seventh interception of the season. Moss wouldn’t mind if the two-way threat comes close to matching that total this week.
“I hope he has five or six Friday night,” the coach said with a laugh.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.