Cullman’s Zac Crocker runs for a first down against Walker earlier in the season. The Bearcats travel to Walker this Friday night for a rematch against the Vikings. Cullman defeated Walker by a score of 42-14 in week one.
By Jake Winfrey
When his Cullman football team takes the field Friday night against Walker, coach Mark Britton knows his players will be ready for anything that comes their way.
That’s because the Bearcats (9-2, 5-2 in Class 5A, Region 8) have played in, statistically, the toughest region in 5A this season with the eight teams combining for 48 wins, four more than any other region in the state.
“Our strength of schedule has really benefited us this season,” Britton said. “It’s also beneficial to us in a sense that it won’t be the first time we’ve seen a great team if we continue making our way through the playoffs.”
Playing in a region loaded with teams like top-ranked Muscle Shoals(11-0), one of the favorites to make a run at the state title, Russellville (9-2) and Hartselle (7-4), last year’s state champion, it’s no wonder Britton believes his team is prepared headed into this week’s game against Walker, a team the Bearcats beat 42-14 in the first game of the season.
Britton added his squad has not only been tested by their region’s top teams, but also by opponents outside of the region as well.
“Just look at games one, five and 10,” Britton said. “We played Walker, 3A Madison Academy and Center Point. Walker and Madison Academy both won and went undefeated in their regions, and Center Point made the playoffs as a four seed in theirs. So I think, top to bottom, our schedule has been a very big test for us this year.”
One of the things Britton thinks helps a team with a difficult schedule is the various schemes players encounter throughout the year.
“People really underestimate the coaching staffs of these great teams,” he said. “The schemes we faced this year have been outstanding, and I think having to make those adjustments during the games really seasons the players late in the year.”
Britton mentioned a few of the coaches who have met that criteria.
“Coach Basden won a title at Cordova and has done a great job at Muscle Shoals,” the coach said. “Coach Godsey at Hartselle won the state title last season and has his team right back in the mix of things this year, too.”
Building on that, Britton said he likes his fellow Region 8 teams to continue advancing through this year's bracket. All four teams took care of their Region 7 opponents in the first round, including Hartselle's 14-6 “upset” of No. 2 Fort Payne.
“I don’t think that any of them, including us, are really in over our heads,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we won’t have to play very well to win, because we will.”
Muscle Shoals will host Pinson Valley this week, Hartselle will host No. 10 Wenonah and Russellville will host No. 5 McAdory.
Zac Crocker will be a key component on Friday night if the Bearcats want to reach the third round for the first time since 2009.
The senior quarterback said his teammates knew well before the season started that Region 8 would be treacherous.
“We knew it was going to be tough going in,” he said. “But we decided that just because it was going to be tough didn’t mean we couldn’t be a tough football team.”
Crocker added the success that other region teams have had this season only motivates Crocker and his teammates moving forward.
“It makes us practice harder and want it that much more,” he said. “We are a close team that loves doing what we do, and we want to continue to add on to this memorable year.”
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 258 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.