By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
For Cullman-Walker to truly be considered a rivalry, at least during coach John Holladay’s tenure, the Vikings probably need to win more than once every six years.
Since Holladay took over Walker’s football program in 2007, the Vikings have only conquered the Bearcats a single time, a 24-14 decision in 2010. Other than that lone outcome in Walker’s favor, the recent series has produced victory after victory for the Black and Gold, some lopsided — 26-7 in ’06, 35-7 in ’07 and 42-14 in Week 1 this season — and one nail-biter — a 17-14 thriller on a last-second field goal from Collin Glasscock in 2011.
Holladay acknowledged Wednesday night in a phone interview with The Times that Cullman has been his kryptonite, but he couldn’t initially put his finger on why.
“I don’t know. I wish I did,” the coach said. “They’ve got our number. They’ve just owned us.”
Given a bit more time to think, Holladay eventually credited most of his struggles to the Bearcat coaching staff, which consists of two coordinators and 10 assistants led by 12th-year head coach Mark Britton. He said the Black and Gold’s intricate schemes and gameplans can be pretty difficult to manage against.
The Vikings enter this week’s second-round showdown versus Cullman as overwhelming underdogs based on their season-opening loss to the Bearcats. The score was tied 14-14 after three quarters of play in that contest before Cullman went off for 28 points in the last 12 minutes to crush Walker.
Holladay would much rather see tonight’s score be closer to last year’s Thursday-night barn burner with the Cats than suffer another blowout like they did to kick off the 2012 campaign.
“We don’t want to be on the other end of another 42-14 spanking,” he said.
Holladay said he’d like to think the Vikings are a whole lot better than they were nearly three months ago. According to the coach, his offensive line has improved greatly throughout the season.
Walker will have a different kid behind center than it did in August. Lefty freshman Bryant Atkins has been an exceptional replacement for junior Blake Wilkes, who suffered a season-ending broken thumb in a 14-0 loss to Russellville back in Week 5.
Seeing how freshman handle playoff pressure can be nerveracking for any coach, but any questions Holladay might’ve had about Atkins were answered during last Friday’s 30-7 romp over Central Tuscaloosa.
“He’s done a good job leading the offense, and he has a playoff game under his belt,” the coach said. “After this amount of time, he’s really not a freshman anymore.”
Although the series has leaned heavily toward Cullman over the last six years, the rivalry has been extremely close since it began in 1920. The Vikings hold the slightest of advantages with a 33-32-2 mark.
Holladay didn’t have to think very hard about why a Cullman-Walker game means so much to both teams and fanbases.
“From schools to towns to color schemes, we’re just very similar,” he said. “Both schools have winning traditions and good players. It’s been a good rivalry. I would like to think both of us have respect for each other.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at email@example.com.