By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
On paper, this year’s Vinemont (6-2, 4-2 in Class 3A, Region 7) and Winston County (5-3, 4-2) football teams are practically identical.
Both have bounced back from horrendous showings in 2011 — the Eagles were 1-9, while the Yellow Jackets were winless. Both enter Week 9 already holding playoff spots with much-improved records. Both have only lost to Hamilton and Hanceville.
So if these two squads are really so similar, what — or who — could Vinemont have that its region rival doesn’t?
For those playing along at home, the answer is two words and one name — Ty Jones.
With four straight 200-yard rushing performances and six in seven games, the bruising running back has easily separated himself from the competition as Cullman County’s best player this season. Behind an exceptional offensive line, the senior and his trusty sidekick, Tyler Boland, have the Eagles off to their best start since 2009, the last year they made the playoffs.
As if he hadn’t proven himself enough already, Jones marched into a hostile Winfield environment last Friday and handed Vinemont its postseason berth on a silver platter with 262 rushing yards on 34 carries and five total touchdowns in the team’s 45-32 victory.
The senior’s latest sensational showing upped his season totals to 1,561 rushing yards in 198 attempts (7.9 yards per attempt) and 23 touchdowns. Jones is on pace to finish the regular season with 1,951 yards and nearly 29 scores.
Jones and Boland will certainly have the opportunity to go wild against the Yellow Jackets, who have allowed 61 and 46 points in consecutive losses to Hanceville and Hamilton. Vinemont’s two Tylers will want to be the latest to pile on the points in what could be their last home game of the season.
Of course, it might not be, either. A win against the Yellow Jackets, as well as a Hanceville loss to Cordova, would ensure the first postseason game played at the Pinnacle since 1993.
% Cordova (2-6, 2-4 in Class 3A, Region 7) at Hanceville (5-3, 4-2): Dante Reese isn’t even slightly impressed by the Blue Devils’ late-season surge.
When asked about Cordova’s two-game win streak, the wide receiver took no time pointing out how many consecutive victories his Bulldogs can claim.
“We have five,” Reese said with a swagger expected from a wide receiver one week removed from hauling in a game-winning catch versus Danville.
The sophomore’s heroic grab on a 12-yard pass from Caleb Hurst completed Hanceville’s comeback, not only against the Hawks but also from a 0-3 start to the season. Despite stumbling out of the gates, the Dawgs’ five-game run already has them sitting pretty in the playoff picture. A win tonight over the Blue Devils would wrap up the region’s No. 2 seed, which comes with home-field advantage in the first round.
Cordova’s traditionally strong football program started to show signs of decline last season, and that trend has continued into 2012. The Blue Devils began the year on a six-game skid before winning their last two contests against mediocre competition in Danville and Good Hope.
After barely beating an inferior Hawks’ squad last week, expect Hanceville to bring the pain versus Cordova. With Torrey Green coming off a 199-yard, three-touchdown performance on the ground, Brontae Harris sporting six interceptions in the last three games and Reese making waves on offense and defense, that shouldn’t be too difficult.
% Crossville (1-7, 0-6 in Class 4A, Region 6) at Fairview (6-2, 4-2): The folks in Aggie land have probably never rooted for an opponent that beat their beloved team earlier in the season more than they will for Oneonta tonight.
That’s because if the Purple and Gold take care of the Lions — which they should — all they’ll need to clinch home-field advantage in the first round is a Redskin win over 6-2 (5-1) Sardis.
Luke Bailey is fresh off one of the most clutch performances of his prep career. Fairview’s winningest quarterback added one more victory to his already hefty total by racking up nearly 400 yards of offense and five touchdowns to outslug Sardis 55-44.
Bailey and Co. shouldn’t have to work nearly as hard tonight against Crossville. The Lion O has scored less than 20 points a game, while the D has been gashed for more than 40 per contest.
% Winfield (2-6, 1-5 in Class 3A, Region 7) at Good Hope (2-6, 1-5): The Raiders are hoping to end their six-game losing streak against the down-and-out Pirates. They’re also looking to score at least one point — make that two because one isn’t actually possible — which would be more than the goose egg they carried home from Cordova last week.
Winfield isn’t exactly thriving, either, as losers of four in a row and six of its last seven. The Pirates only wins were over Cordova in Week 4 and 1A Brilliant to open the season.
If Good Hope doesn’t snap its skid against the Pirates, it should be able to in Week 10 versus 2A West End. The Patriots are winless heading into tonight’s game at Gaston.
% East Limestone (3-5, 2-4) at West Point (2-6, 1-5): After being bullied by the region’s powerhouses almost every week, either the Indians or Warriors will be presented with the rare opportunity to dish out a few doses of the nasty medicine reclassification has prescribed both squads this season.
Using each team’s last two games for comparison, East Limestone has the edge in this matchup. The Indians only lost to Hartselle 47-7 last week and Muscle Shoals 42-7 the Friday before, while West Point failed to score in lopsided affairs with the Trojans (53-0) and Tigers (45-0).
Tonight’s game will be the foes’ first against each other since 2005, when East Limestone edged the Warriors 13-12 in West Point.
% Oakman (7-1, 6-0) at Cold Springs (2-6, 1-5): The only thing standing between the Wildcats and the region crown is the Eagles.
If Cold Springs doesn’t step aside, its likely to be pushed out of the way by an Oakman squad that’s strung together a seven-game winning streak. The Wildcats have a knack for scoring in bunches, topping 40 points four times this season. That’s bad news for a shaky Eagle defense, which has given up that amount on three different Fridays, including a 63-point outburst to Aliceville.
Action will pick up for Cold Springs in Week 10, when it has the chance to avenge last year’s heartbreaking loss to Carbon Hill.
% Plainview (7-1, 5-1 in Class 3A, Region 6) at Holly Pond (1-7, 1-5): Chris Whitehead proved he’s capable of doing a little bit of everything on the football field last week, intercepting two passes, blocking and recovering a punt, and catching a 77-yard touchdown pass versus Pisgah.
What Whitehead also proved is that the Broncos need more than one player to step up in order for the team to win ballgames. Holly Pond is mired in a seven-game losing streak since an 18-13 Week 2 win over Brindlee Mountain.
Meanwhile, a seventh straight win for the Bears would wrap up the region’s No. 2 seed. They’ve squeaked by for victories their last two weeks, edging New Hope 13-12 and Sylvania 24-21.
The Broncos will close the season against 1A Appalachian in Week 10.
% No. 1 Muscle Shoals (8-0, 6-0 in Class 5A, Region 8) at Cullman (7-1, 5-1): Check out www.cullmantimes.com or Thursday’s print edition of The Times for a full preview of this region showdown.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.