Monday afternoon’s football film session was unlike any the Waterloo football team had ever had.
The Cougars studied the good and bad from last week’s 20-15 win over Hubbertville, the first playoff win in the history of the program.
“Getting that win was big for the school, big for the community and big for (the players), too,” Waterloo coach Brad Palmer said. “It shows other people we’ve come a long way and we’re not what we used to be.”
Still, it shouldn’t define this week. That’s true not only for Waterloo but also for Mars Hill, which in its fifth year of varsity competition earned its first playoff win in last Friday’s 55-0 rout of Marion County.
This year’s two best local Class 1A teams can’t yet savor recent achievements when opportunities for bigger breakthroughs lie ahead.
Palmer wants his players to “enjoy being part of the history, but at a point we’re going to have to let that go for now and just get ready for the next game, and I have no doubt they’ll do that.”
As is the case for each of the six second round qualifiers in the TimesDaily’s coverage area — the others being Muscle Shoals, Deshler, Colbert County and Red Bay — the competition will improve in round two.
Waterloo (9-2) travels across the state to play Spring Garden (10-1) and Mars Hill (10-1) hosts Donoho (9-2).
It was obvious by halftime of Mars Hill’s first round game that Marion County would not be spoiling the Panthers’ postseason.
“Early on we were expecting their best and expecting a four-quarter game,” coach Darrell Higgins said.
Mars Hill instead led at halftime by seven touchdowns, so the team could relax a bit and some of the younger players got to play.
“It was very exciting for us because we had a tremendous week of practice and it just led right into the game,” Higgins said.
Mars Hill is back home this week to play Donoho, a team from Anniston with losses to a strong team from Mississippi and to Spring Garden.
Higgins said Donoho’s Barry Billings runs and passes well like a couple of quarterbacks Mars Hill has faced in Brooks’ Lake Spurgeon and Waterloo’s Bryce Palmer.
Donoho running back Rod Elston is small but athletic, and tight end William Nelson is big and “can do it all.”
“There are some players that really have our attention,” Higgins said, adding Donoho has “probably as much speed as we’ve seen, especially in the 1A games, all year.”
Mars Hill lost tight end/defensive end Hayden Nelson to a season-ending injury a couple weeks ago but the Panthers gave every indication Friday they are ready for a long playoff journey.
Mars Hill is the state’s No. 2 scoring team among all classes and No. 4 scoring defense team in Class 1A, and Higgins said the players know if they do their jobs “we’ve got a good quality football team.”
Waterloo will have its own challenges against Spring Garden, which is in the second round for the fourth straight year but has never advanced further than that. Brad Palmer said Spring Garden has a couple good running backs and is a well-coached team.
“They’re just a solid team all the way around, and that’s what you see when you get to this point,” Palmer said.
The Cougars must travel three and a half hours, but Palmer noted the Cougars are unbeaten on the road this year and doesn’t think it will be an issue.
Waterloo made a long trip last year for its first round playoff game, a narrow loss to Cedar Bluff. Palmer pointed out some of the Cougars will be playing in their third playoff game — a big difference from last year.
“It takes a lot of pressure off of you because you’re not so concerned with things that aren’t known,” he said. “They’ve been a part of that atmosphere. They understand it, and they know what it takes.”
The TimesDaily will have more coverage of the following teams this week.
• In Class 6A, Muscle Shoals travels to defending state champion Pinson Valley. The Trojans escaped Minor 10-7 last week – a win capped by Trey Stoddard’s field goal – and are in the second round for the eighth year in a row.
• In Class 4A, Deshler follows its first playoff win in four years with a trip to Fayette County. Since 2006, Fayette County has won seven region championships and 25 playoff games.
• In Class 2A, Colbert County hosts Fyffe and Red Bay visits Ohatchee. Both the local teams have a serious challenge against an undefeated opponent. Colbert County is in the second round for the sixth time in seven seasons. Despite a rare miss last year, Red Bay is another playoff regular and seeks its first quarterfinal bid since 2007.