By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
GOOD HOPE —
The Good Hope football team only gave itself a couple of days to celebrate a historic 61-14 season-opening victory versus Holly Pond. Then, it was back to work as usual.
“Sunday morning, we woke up and was like, ‘It’s time to get ready for Hanceville, time to get our minds right for the ballgame,’” said Raider senior Justin Turner, who had an interception and touchdown catch against the Broncos. “We came out Monday, we’re like, ‘It’s time to go to practice, time to move on to a different week now. We can forget about the 61 points.’”
For Good Hope, it’s out with one Cullman County opponent and in with another. Unlike Holly Pond, though, Hanceville is also a Class 3A, Region 7 rival, making the stakes even higher for a pair of 1-0 programs with postseason aspirations.
Raider coach Chris Moss had the luxury of sitting his starters for most of the second half last week and said “it’d be great to do that” again this Friday. After seeing just how fast the Bulldogs can be in a 35-33 win over Fairview, though, Moss isn’t keeping his hopes up.
“It’s going to be a dog fight,” he said with a chuckle at the obvious pun. “Hanceville’s got a great football team. Those kids can run. It’s going to be one of those things we told our kids if we can sort of hold down the big play, we can stay with them.”
The Dawgs certainly had their share of big plays against the Aggies, but so did Good Hope in its romp of Holly Pond.
Jared McClure and Sebastian Fendley each had 70-plus-yard punt returns for scores on the Raiders’ first two touches of the season. The duo then proceeded to account for three more touchdowns apiece, including an 80-yard connection on a short screen pass at the line of scrimmage.
While the offense was obviously clicking, so was Good Hope’s D, which came away with a pick, three sacks and several recovered fumbles, including a couple that were scooped up in the Raiders’ own end zone. Turner, who doubles as a cornerback and wide receiver, is confident the unit can churn out the same sort of results in its battle with the Bulldogs.
“I’m not trying to say we’re better than Fairview or anything, but I feel like we can bring a better package to the defensive side,” the senior said.
That very same defense turned on the jets in the second half of last year’s meeting, limiting Hanceville to just six points and forcing four turnovers over the third and fourth quarters.
Though Good Hope went on to win 34-27, the first half wasn’t always as kind to the Raiders. They entered the locker room down 21-13 at the midway break, beginning a trend of sluggish starts that carried over into the rest of the season.
“Last year, we had a lot of starts that were bad in the first half,” Turner said. “We know now that we have to get it rolling in the first half.”
Because the 2012 contest came down to a single score, offensive lineman Jonathan Grigsby is fully expecting another barn burner this time around.
“Everybody keeps asking me, ‘Do you think you’re going to beat them?’” the senior said. “Well, no matter how good or bad they are, it’s always a really good game. It’s a huge rival, and we’re coming in prepared, so I’m ready.”
All the hype surrounding Good Hope since last Thursday’s Bronco bloodbath has been through the roof, which is understandable, but also a potential concern for most programs. That doesn’t seem to be the case for the Raiders, though, whose 14 experienced seniors have played a big part in keeping their younger teammates grounded.
“We can’t go in with the mindset that we already have the game won,” said Anthony Harlan, a veteran offensive lineman. “We’ve still go to step it up.”
The Red and White coaches are doing their part in tempering the hoopla, too.
“The kids have really enjoyed it,” Moss said. “But we also have the chore of keeping their heads down on their shoulders and not in the clouds. It ain’t over. Each week presents a different type of team, and this is going to be a test. It’s going to be a war out there.”
As Moss put it, Hanceville is just the start of “the meat” of Good Hope’s schedule. After welcoming in the Bulldogs, the Raiders will travel to Winston County Week 3 and stay on the road to face Hamilton the following Friday.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at email@example.com.