“The biggest thing is last year our kids went out and really believed that they could win,” head coach Matt Griffith said. “That was half the battle. That was a close ball game last year, but we really felt we made a couple of mistakes that kept Briarwood in it. We felt that if we hadn’t made mistakes, that we would have beat them by two touchdowns.”
This season, they’ll face a team that is tough to beat two years in a row while also playing Briarwood on the road.
Last season was the first time in school history the Aggies had beaten the Lions. If Sylacauga can pull out a win again this year, it would be the school’s first road victory at Briarwood.
“This year, Briarwood is a little better defensively; they’re a little bit better up front and they’re a little bit better in the secondary,” Griffith said. “It’s one of those things: to beat a Briarwood team, you can’t make a lot of mistakes. They beat you on your own mistakes. The biggest thing we want to do is we want to make them make the mistakes and capitalize on their mistakes.”
If the Aggies’ home opener last week was any indication, it may be a close contest once again this season. Sylacauga defeated Hayden 35-3. The Aggies were slowed by a long opening drive by Hayden, before Montel McGhee blocked a field goal attempt and the Aggies dominated the rest of the game. As Griffith noted, many of the players from last year’s team returned this year.
“We’ve got the majority of our team that played as juniors last year back,” Griffith said. “We approach it like any other game. We’ve got to go in and do our thing, run our offense, run our defense, be sound in the kicking game and see what shakes out. Our kids have a lot of confidence right now. They believe that they can go out there and play with a lot of folks and they’re going to have to.”
Both the running game and passing game had strong showings last week. The defense played well overall and even though they gave up a number of big plays, Griffith pointed out his players stayed with the play and made tackles to prevent touchdowns.
“The thing about the big play is you’re going to give up one or two here, as long as you don’t give up a long touchdown,” Griffith said. “I was pleased with the ability of our kids to catch a kid and get him down there and make an offense snap the ball again. The biggest thing that we can’t do is: Briarwood’s got a couple of kids that you may not catch, so we want to limit those big plays. If they get a big play, it’s a 10 or 15-yard gain; it’s not a 50-yard touchdown.”
This is a region game for the Aggies and Griffith is well aware of the importance of region games.
“It’s always nice if you can start out in your region play with a win,” Griffith said. “When you hit region play, they’re all important. To make the playoffs, you have to win so many region games. It’s not just that; it’s the rankings in the region that are so important. You really need to strive to be one or two in your region, number one to play at home, but number two to be able to play somebody else’s three or four. That’s the important thing about getting out of the first round. Any region game is very important.”
The Lions opened the season with a 27-7 road loss to Eagles Landing Christian Academy in McDonough, Ga. ELCA had enough talent last season to have eight football players sign scholarships with FBS schools to play at the college level.
Griffith said the key to beating Briarwood is improved play, with playing mistake-free football being the top priority.
“The biggest thing I want to see is improvement,” he said. “The most improvement sometimes you make in a year, the biggest jump will be between games one and two. We need to see that on both sides of the football, we need to get better in our kicking game and we’ve just got to eliminate some of the mistakes we made in the first ball game. If we can do those things, it gives you an opportunity to win.”