November 8, 2012 10:07:43 AM
When the Lamar County High School football team returned to the Alabama High School Activities Association's Class 2A playoff last season, coach Ken Adams knew the work was beginning.
To achieve postseason success, Lamar County needed to improve its region seeding to earn more playoff games at home.
This season, the Bulldogs did just that. By placing second in Class 2A, Region 4, Lamar County earned the right to play host to New Brockton, the third seed from Region 3, at 7 p.m. Friday at George Bell Stadium in Vernon, Ala.
Elsewhere in the coverage area, Aliceville will travel to Elba in Class 2A, while Pickens County will play host to Falkville in Class 1A. In the Alabama Independent School Association playoffs, Pickens Academy will play host to Ashford Academy in a Class A semifinal matchup.
All games start at 7 p.m.
New Brockton (4-6) at Lamar County (7-3)
The Bulldogs set a preseason goal of finishing in the top two in region play. By finishing this high, they could host when the playoffs began. After dropping its region opener to Oakman, Lamar County responded with six straight region wins to secure second place.
"To be able to play a playoff game at home is really huge for this community," Adams said. "Everybody is excited. The kids have been working hard to get to this point. As we get ready to play, we have to play our potential and not get caught up in the excitement."
The 41-24 loss to Oakman in the second week of the season didn't deter Lamar County. The Bulldogs made strides on offense and have played championship-caliber defense.
The region win streak has included some outstanding offensive performances, but it also included plenty of championship defense, as evidenced by an 18-14 victory against Sulligent and an 18-13 victory against Hale County.
"When you start winning games, it builds confidence," Adams said. "I think the kids were hungry after last season. They were learning how to win. This season, we were able to build on last season's strong finish. The bigger the game, the better the kids played this season."
Lamar County also received tests in non-region losses to playoff participants Berry and Winfield. Each of those setbacks was by a touchdown or less. With an additional break or two, Lamar County could be 9-1 entering the postseason.
"None of that matters," Adams said. "We have to forget about last week's loss (24-21 to Winfield), but we also have to forget about the wins. What we can control is what happens for the rest of the season. We have to find a way to keep getting better."
Junior Dallas Cockerham leads Lamar County with 830 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. Sophomore Alex Wheeler has run for 590 yards and five touchdowns. Cockerham is 37 of 79 for 747 yards, with eight touchdowns and three interceptions.
Senior Devin Dias has 12 receptions for 216 yards and three touchdowns, while Tim Harton has seven receptions for 172 yards and three touchdowns. Junior Ryan Barham has a team-high 41 tackles. Senior Landon Williams and freshman Bryce Myles each have four interceptions.
New Brockton placed third in Region 3 with a 4-3 region record. It enters the postseason coming off losses to Luverne (33-14) and Kinston (17-14).
Aliceville (6-4) at Elba (6-4)
The Yellow Jackets return to postseason play for a second-straight year. However, the challenge is different this season. After losing in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs last season, Aliceville will kick off action in Class 2A Friday.
"We are looking forward to getting started," Aliceville coach Charles Moody said. "Sometimes, it doesn't matter how you get there. The goal at the beginning of the season is to make the playoffs. We are excited about our chance to compete."
Aliceville earned the third seed Region 4 by finishing 5-2 in region play. It lost to Oakman (50-36) and Lamar County (44-14). After not winning a non-region game a season ago, those struggles continued this year, with the only non-region win being last week's 50-0 victory at Greene County.
"The challenge for our team has been consistency," Moody said. "When we play well for four quarters, we can compete with anybody. In the playoffs, everybody picks their game up, so we will have to do the same."
Aliceville will look to get more players involved in the offense. Jeremy McMullen has emerged as the leading rusher, with six touchdowns in the past three games. Six Yellow Jackets scored in the win against Greene County.
Despite a 6-1 record in Region 3 play, Elba placed second in the region. It dropped a 26-21 decision to region champion Luverne on Oct. 12 at home. Back-to-back region wins followed to nail down the second spot. Elba lost 46-0 at Brantley in its regular-season finale.
Falkville (6-3) at Pickens County (8-2)
The Tornadoes begin their quest for the AHSAA Class 1A state championship by playing host to Falkville in the opening round.
Pickens County opens the postseason at home after a second straight second-place finish in Region 5. The Blue Devils placed third in Region 6.
"The community is excited about a new season and another chance in the playoffs," Pickens County coach Patrick Plott said. "You play with a little more pressure each week now for the rest of the season. Still, you enter each just trying to find a way to win the game that week."
Pickens County's lone region loss came to defending state champion Marion County (45-27). It also dropped a 14-13 decision to Gordo last Friday in the regular-season finale. Marion County also saw its season-opening nine-game winning streak snapped with a 21-17 loss to Red Bay in its final regular-season game.
"There are several different teams that could win the championship," Plott said. "This may be the most balanced field we have seen. Marion County is the champion until somebody knocks them off. We weren't disciplined when we played them. Hopefully, we would play smarter and better in a rematch."
Falkville enters postseason play on a three-game losing streak. It was shut out in each of its past two defeats, Ragland (24-0) and Danville (30-0).
Ashford Academy (8-3) at Pickens Academy (9-2)
The Pirates stand one victory away from playing for the AISA Class A state championship. The Pirates play a second-straight home playoff game when Ashford Academy visits for a semifinal matchup.
Pickens Academy opened postseason play with a 34-21 victory against Lakeside Academy. For the Pirates, the victory was a good sign after the regular season ended with losses to two of the state's elite teams -- Patrician Academy (34-28) and Clarke Prep (56-20).
"There may have been some nerves for some players playing in a playoff game for the first time," Pickens Academy coach John Gartman said. "Even though we lost the last two games, the kids still felt confident. They were looking forward to the playoffs."
Against Lakeside Academy, Josh Lewis rushed for 177 yards and four touchdowns. He also was 7 of 11 for 106 yards. Joel Pratt ran for 82 yards and also scored a touchdown.
"We have improved our balance on offense late in the season," Gartman said. "We have to continue to do that and not have turnovers. Defensively, we have a good plan. The kids have been playing hard and we are looking forward to the next challenge."
Ashford Academy began postseason play with a 50-13 victory against Sumter Academy. The Falcons have won four straight by an average margin of 39 points per game.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
1. Freeze may face NCAA penalty COLLEGE SPORTS
2. Southern Miss' Bradley one of six on C-USA team COLLEGE SPORTS