The Cullman football team has been told what it can’t do all season long.
With quarterback Zac Crocker and tall targets Troy Forrest and Houston Turner lost to graduation, the general consensus was that this year’s Bearcats couldn’t possibly be as successful as their predecessors. That the Black and Gold could forget about hosting a first-round playoff game. That they’d be a middling 6-4 squad, at best.
And how’s that worked out, critics?
Pretty well for Cullman, actually. The Bearcats have only lost a single game through eight weeks and picked up wins against Walker (13-10), Hartselle (14-6), Russellville (30-7) and Athens (16-13), the first time in program history they’ve defeated all four rivals in the same season.
“Nobody expected us to be as good as we’ve been this year,” senior signal-caller Tyler Glenn said. “We’re 7-1, fixing to play for a region championship and we’ve beat all four of those teams. It’s just been a tremendous and exciting year and one I’ll remember forever.”
With a home playoff game already secured for the No. 9 Black and Gold (7-1, 6-0 in Class 5A, Region 8), an upset of third-ranked Muscle Shoals (8-0, 6-0) this Friday on the road would just be icing on the cake. That’s certainly taken a heap of pressure off Cullman, but it hasn’t made Glenn and Co.’s will to win wane in the slightest, especially considering how close the team is to capturing its first region title since 2009.
“We’re all pumped up for it,” the quarterback said. “It’s the team that’s won the region the last two years, so we’re looking forward to taking it back from them and bringing it back to Cullman.”
Added senior linebacker Joseph Gable on the Bearcats’ remarkable 2013 campaign and chance to claim the region championship: “I’ve never really felt this great before. I just want to win it so bad I can taste it.”
Topping the Trojans is far from an easy task. The north Alabama powerhouse is averaging a rock-solid 43 points per game on offense and has given up a razor-thin 19 points all season. Outside of Muscle Shoals’ five shutouts, its D has yielded three points to West Point, seven to 4A Dora and nine to Hartselle, which remains the only opponent to even keep it competitive with a 24-9 final.
With a great deal of help from defensive end Dee Liner, the Trojans bested the Black and Gold 35-19 in 2012. Even with Liner now redshirting at Alabama, longtime Cullman coach Mark Britton felt confident saying this year’s version of Muscle Shoals is probably better than its last.
“And they were outstanding,” he said of the 2012 team. “But this group right here, they’re playing together better. They’re a complete team. They’re very confident in their system, they play their game and so far no one has found the key to beat them. We’ve got our hands full against this bunch, clearly the best team we’ve played.”
Despite the way the Trojans have dominated their opponents this season, don’t expect words like “scared,” “intimidated” or “overmatched” to be uttered by any Bearcats this week. In fact, Britton said “opportunity” has been the prevalent term being tossed around his team’s locker room.
“We’re going to go up to Muscle Shoals, just try to put our gameplan on the line and see where we measure up,” he said. “Somebody’s going to really have to put together a big game to knock them off. We’ve got a few ideas we’re going to see if we can execute and see how things go.”
Gable was on the same page as his coach.
“We just have to step up,” said the linebacker, who’s picked off two passes this season. “They’ve got some good athletes, but we’ve got a good gameplan coming in, so I think we’ll be able to stop their run. That’s pretty much all they do is run and run and run and run and run. We should be all right.”
Added Glenn: “Teams go up there, hear the words ‘Muscle Shoals’ and just get kind of freaked out and timid. We’re not looking at it like that. We’re just looking at it as another opponent in our way of winning a region title, getting to the state playoffs and doing well there, too.”
With running back Garrett Crider throwing a 74-yard touchdown to Seth Donaldson and wide receiver Auston Neal tossing a 7-yard touchdown to Glenn in last Friday’s thriller versus Athens, one might’ve figured there’d be a quarterback competition brewing for the Bearcats this week.
Britton quickly — and comedically — squashed that notion on Tuesday.
“Garrett and Auston are pretty excited about their passing accomplishments, but I think we’ll probably stick with Tyler,” the coach said with a chuckle. “We’ve been all right with Tyler there.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at email@example.com.