“We know we’re the underdogs,” Talladega head coach Robert Herring said. “I promise you there won’t be anybody that picks Talladega to beat Sylacauga in any newspaper, but all of these coaches believe we can win and we’re hoping about 40 players know they can win. These seniors are going to go out there and it’s their last homecoming. They’re going to give it everything they have. This is one game I’m not worried about them leaving anything on the field. This is the game where you don’t leave anything out there; you give it 110 percent.”
Talladega enters with a small dose of momentum after defeating regional opponent Shelby County on the road, 42-35. Herring said his players understand the magnitude of this game.
“This is the biggest game we’ve had all year and the biggest game we’ll have all year,” Herring said. “It’s homecoming for us, we’ve got a 50-year reunion for the 1963 class that won a state championship, so it’s huge for us. Plus, it’s a region game, it’s a rivalry game, it’s Sylacauga. We know how good they are. Coach (Matt) Griffith and his staff do a tremendous job over there. They’re a playoff team every year. Their staff has been together for years; they know what they’re doing and what they’re looking for. They’ve been that same offense and defense for years. We’re looking to get our program to where their program is in a year or two.”
Sylacauga won last year’s matchup at Legion Stadium, 20-6.
Last week, Sylacauga lost to No. 4 Homewood 50-7. It should be noted Homewood has a 6-1 overall record and a 5-0 region record while posting a miniscule 9.7 points allowed per game this season, ranking them 17th among all teams in the state. Sylacauga head coach Matt Griffith said his team has already moved on because the Talladega game presents a big opportunity to assure a spot in the playoffs.
“Our kids have been really focused in realizing it’s a region win,” Griffith said. “They want to get another region win and be a lock for the playoffs. One of the goals now, once we lost the one last week, our kids really want to focus on trying to win seven games. That’s their biggest focus and we’ve got to take them one game at a time. This is the first step in a three-game stretch. We’ve got two region games in a row and the cross-town rival in Comer, so it’s three important games back-to-back-to-back.”
Talladega’s offense had struggled to put together big numbers for most of the season, but managed to score 42 points last week against Shelby County.
“Last week, it was just a culmination of all the things that have happened all year,” Herring said. “Some games we’ve had it where our running game is there and the passing game wasn’t; some games the passing game has been there and we couldn’t get anything going on the ground. Last week, we threw for about 260 yards and we rushed for about 200 yards. It was just one of those great offensive games that we needed to happen. It was something positive for us and we’re going to try to keep it going this week.”
Griffith said it is evident simply watching Talladega that the team has developed a gritty, hard hat, lunch pail demeanor.
“I’ve known coach Herring a long time, I’ve known his brother a long time, and I’ve known his daddy,” Griffith said. “I know his family. He’s gone over there and is doing exactly what he needs to do. They’re doing a ball control offense; they keep it away from you. Defensively, they’re really getting after it. You can tell there’s a change and that the kids are playing hard for him. We know it’s going to be four quarters to beat them.”
Griffith’s team has battled a host of injuries this season, but younger players have stepped in to fill the void. He believes the turnover battle will prove to be the difference in the game.
“We’ve got to get some stops on defense,” Griffith said. “When we have the ball, we’ve got to score because they’re going to run the clock and they’re going to have the ball a long time. We’re going to have to make the most of our possessions. I know it’s a cliché, but turnovers could be the key to the win. Whoever wins the turnover ratio is probably going to win the ball game.”
Herring echoes a similar sentiment, noting his team cannot afford to make mistakes against Sylacauga’s defense.
“On defense, they’ve got two down lineman that are going to be two of the better ones we’ve seen all year,” Herring said. “Their motors don’t stop, they try to get to the ball every play and they’re just a sound defense. It’s going to take a hundred percent team effort for us to beat them. We’ll have to have no mistakes on offense and play sound defense and hopefully we’ll have a chance in the fourth quarter.”
Talladega hosts Sylacauga at Mary Dumas Stadium tonight at 7 p.m.