October 23, 2013 11:22:38 PM
After nine games, the Tuscaloosa Christian, Victory Christian, and Tabernacle football teams are almost in the same spot.
All three teams finished 3-1 in the Christian Football Association's regular season and qualified for the league's four-team playoffs. Tuscaloosa Christian (vs. New Life Christian) and Victory Christian (vs. Tabernacle) won tiebreakers and earned the right to play host to semifinal-round games Friday.
The teams that best handle the first step in a new two-week season will advance to Tuscaloosa Christian in Cottondale, Ala. to determine the CFA champion.
Victory Christian coach Chris Hamm hopes his team is able to bounce back from a 40-12 loss to Tuscaloosa Christian last week on Homecoming. The Eagles (6-3) will be without senior offensive lineman/linebacker Brandon Shaw, who suffered a knee injury in the loss. Hamm said Wednesday that Shaw had an MRI on his knee that revealed no ligament damage. He said Shaw will be out this week and could be back if Victory Christian wins Friday and moves on. Hamm said freshman Cody Anthony will step in for Shaw on offense. He said the Eagles likely will have to shuffle personnel on defense without Shaw.
For that to happen, Hamm knows his team will have to be able to forget a disappointing loss -- its second to Tuscaloosa Christian this season -- and not put too much stock into its 63-20 victory against Tabernacle on Sept. 13. Hamm knows Tabernacle (5-4) will have running back Tristan Castro back, so he expects a different opponent, and he will stress that fact to his players every time he can between now and gametime.
"You just have to realize playoffs are playoffs (and anything can happen)," Hamm said. "I feel they will take Tabernacle seriously. ... I think it just boils down to we need to be ready to come out and make good things happen early and it will take care of itself.
"They are saying the right things. Hopefully, it is going to translate into performance. The first 10 minutes of the first quarter is where it is going to be determined, if you ask me."
Tabernacle also should enter the rematch against Victory Christian with added confidence because it defeated Tuscaloosa Christian 40-34 in the regular season.
Hamm plans to factor all of those things into his pregame talks with his team. He said he is looking for the right message to convey to a young team that is coming off a game in which a number of factors -- the game was on a Thursday, it was Homecoming, it didn't have its normal warmup, and the team lost 30-50 yards on bad snaps -- worked against it.
"Everything was sort of out of kilter," Hamm said. "It wasn't as much a physical domination as you might think with a 40-12 score. It was more, in my opinion, a mental lapse on our part, and then when we got down we didn't respond real well."
The final score was a bigger margin than the teams' first meeting -- a 38-32 triple overtime final in Cottondale, Ala. Hamm said the second game also was different in that the adversity affected the Eagles and caused them to become "fractured." He believes all of the factors involved in a 28-point loss to the school's archrival caused players to start pointing fingers at each other.
"When you start seeing that slip away, it is real easy to look for someone to blame," Hamm said. "That can't happen. It has to be something that we're going to pull together and win, lose, or draw it is going to be team."
As soon as he conveyed that message, Hamm attempted to re-focus his players on a two-game season that starts with Tabernacle. He likes his team's chances to erase the memories of the most recent loss and to leave fans with two victories that will leave lasting impressions.
"We're either going to wallow around in self-pity and think, 'Poor me. We lost Homecoming to Tuscaloosa,' or we're going to stand up and take a look at what's out there -- two games -- and play the best ball you have played all year and see where it is after that," Hamm said.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
1. Sykes' faith leads him to coach at Starkville Academy HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
2. Mangum wins SEC batting title COLLEGE SPORTS
4. Former Bulldog Freitas qualifies for Olympics LOCAL SPORTS