Justin Cantrell consoled some of his Deshler teammates while walking off the field at Lauderdale County’s Robert Earl Grisham Stadium after a Sept. 14 loss.
“It’s OK,” the quarterback said. “We’ll see them again.”
His words proved more than team-rallying optimism.
Class 3A No. 10 Deshler (9-3) will get its shot at a rematch, traveling to No. 4 Lauderdale County (11-1) for Friday’s high school football state quarterfinal game.
Of the four playoff games involving area teams, three are rematches between opponents that met during the regular season.
The others are Hartselle (8-4) at Class 5A No. 1 Muscle Shoals (12-0) and Colbert County (8-4) at Class 3A No. 5 Madison Academy (10-2).
That it turned out this way came as no surprise to any of the coaches involved.
“We told our kids at beginning of year, before the season even started, that if we won the first few region games, it would help us get to the playoffs,” Lauderdale County coach Bob Grisham said, “but to expect to see any one of those teams again if we get there. And regardless of who wins Friday, they’ll have to turn around and play either Madison Academy or Colbert County again, too.”
Those teams, like Deshler and Lauderdale County, also play in Class 3A, Region 8, which is one of two regions out of the 48 statewide in the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s six classifications to advance all four of its playoff teams to the quarterfinals.
That means one of those four teams is guaranteed a spot in the 3A state championship game Dec. 6 at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.
In its 35-21 Week 3 win in the first meeting, Lauderdale County built a 28-7 lead through three quarters while nearly doubling its visitor’s offensive production.
Deshler found a big-play offense late to pull within 28-21 with 4½ minutes to play, but a failed onside kick followed by a Lauderdale County touchdown spoiled the comeback bid.
“We had some guys grow up that night,” said Deshler coach John Mothershed, whose team has won eight straight games after starting the season 1-3. “I think we are playing better than we were in Game 3, but so is Lauderdale County. I think our kids expect to compete better than we did the first time, but Lauderdale County is such a good, physical team. Right now, we’re just excited to be in the quarterfinals.”
Deshler is coming off a 28-6 second-round win against previously unbeaten and top-ranked Piedmont and is healthier than it was in the Week 3 meeting.
Starting safety Tucker Norwood returned Week 7 followed by middle linebacker Thomas Milstead later in the season. Both hadn’t played before that due to stress fractures.
Lauderdale County also is healthier. Starting running back C.J. Jackson is finally at full-speed after a nagging ankle injury caused him to miss the first meeting with Deshler and slowed him for much of the season.
Also, offensive guard Grant Thornton came back last week for the first time since Week 5.
Meanwhile, Muscle Shoals is dealing with an injury to one of its starters ahead of the Hartselle rematch.
Coach Scott Basden said the status of Tyler Jackson is uncertain after the starting running back suffered an apparent head/neck injury in a 22-21 second-round win against Pinson Valley last week.
“He had an MRI (on Monday),” Basden said. “We’ll just have to wait and see what the doctors say.”
Jackson netted 175 yards rushing and a 13-yard touchdown run against Pinson Valley. This season, he has 1,278 yards rushing on 106 carries for a team-best 12.1 yards per carry. He has rushed for 16 touchdowns and has 10 catches for 229 yards and three scores.
Jackson played a significant role in Muscle Shoals’ 28-21 Week 6 win against Hartselle. He rushed for 120 yards and a 21-yard touchdown on seven carries, including a 51-yard run to the Hartselle 1-yard line that set up the Trojans’ winning touchdown with 27.5 seconds to play.
Hartselle’s 21 points were the most Muscle Shoals had given up this season before Pinson Valley matched that total last week.
The Trojans are coming off their lowest-scoring game of the season, their offense managing two touchdowns against Pinson Valley.
“(Hartselle coach) Bob Godsey does a great job of knowing what you do best and using it against you,” Basden said of the Week 6 game. “We’re such a fast defense, and they used a lot of bootlegs and rolled out away from the flow once they got us going the other way.
“And once you get in the playoffs, you’re not just going to out-athlete anybody,” Basden added. “Pinson Valley had a great plan and some great linebackers and a secondary that could match our speed. We had just one play over 15-20 yards.”
With a win, Muscle Shoals could face another rematch in the semifinals next week, if Cullman beats McAdory.
At least when it comes to Hartselle, which lost three of its last five regular-season games, the rematch doesn’t surprise Basden.
“They’re the defending state champs,” he said. “We didn’t figure they were going to go away. Until somebody beats them, they’re the favorite.”
Bryan App can be reached at 256-740-5730 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @bappster on Twitter.com