The resurgence of its defense has come at an ideal time for Colbert County.
Banged up during a brutal stretch run of its high school football season, the Indians gave up an average of 43.4 points a game while losing four of its final five to end the regular-season.
Since then, Colbert County (8-4) has allowed a total of 28 points in two playoff wins and heads into tonight’s Class 3A quarterfinal game at No. 5 Madison Academy (10-2) stronger on that side of the ball than it has been all season.
“We’re playing better defensively, but every one of those teams we lost to is still playing, too,” said Indians coach Dale Jeffreys, referring to the strength of his team's regular season-ending schedule. “That’s a big difference. We also haven’t been turning it over on offense and putting our defense in bad situations. In the games we lost, we were minus-20 in turnovers.”
The Indians’ schedule was backloaded for sure.
Their second-half losses came against No. 4 Lauderdale County, No. 10 Deshler, No. 5 Madison Academy and 4A No. 9 Brooks, which all have advanced to the playoff quarterfinals.
Ball security has improved, too. Colbert County had no turnovers in a first-round upset at No. 3 Hamilton, but two in a 14-7 second-round win against Sylvania last week.
But getting healthy, particularly on the defensive line, also has provided a boost for the defense.
Senior defensive tackle Dee Qualls (6-2, 265) finally is back to full-speed after suffering a separated shoulder Week 6 against Lauderdale County.
Also, senior defensive tackle Doug Tucker returned for the playoff opener at Hamilton after sitting out the final five games of the regular season with a Lisfranc injury, which is a displacement of the mid-foot metatarsal bones.
Tucker had a big game in his return, totaling 13 tackles and four sacks in the 42-21 win against the Aggies.
“I was just relieving some of the pressure of not being out there for so long,” Tucker said. “I didn’t want it to be my last game. It was really tough having to sit out and watch my teammates play without me my senior year.
“I tried to come back earlier for the Lauderdale County game but aggravated the injury in practice. That (Hamilton) game, I had to release all that built up energy.”
The rejuvenated defense has made some big plays to help the Indians reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 2008.
Against Hamilton, Colbert County forced four turnovers on downs, including three inside the Indians 20-yard line in the first half, while also scoring on a 100-yard interception return by Collin King.
Last week, the Indians had three takeaways, including two in the fourth quarter, and stopped Sylvania twice on downs.
“Getting our tackles back has helped,” Jeffreys said. “We had been relying on 10th-graders there. We also have made some improvements the last couple weeks in things we weren’t doing well before.
“Earlier in the year we weren’t tackling well. Against Brooks, we would be in position, but couldn’t make the tackle and gave up some big plays. We really worked drills on tackling in space, and we’re doing a better job of that.”
They’ll try to keep that up tonight against Madison Academy, which used touchdowns on a 75-yard pass and a 75-yard punt return by Kerryon Johnson during a 21-point second quarter that blew open the last meeting between the teams.
“The thing is, there’s no pressure on us,” Jeffreys said. “They played in the state championship game last year, and they beat us 42-0 last time. Obviously, nobody is going to pick us to win. We just have to go out there and play hard and see what happens.”
Bryan App can be reached at 256-740-5730 or email@example.com. Follow @bappster on Twitter.