The good news for Sardis is that it’s back in the high school football playoffs this year after a year’s absence. The not-so-good news is that it faces a tremendous challenge (and arguably its toughest game of its season) in the first round.
The Lions (5-5) on Friday hit the road to kick off the postseason, heading to Lineville to face Central-Clay County.
The Volunteers are 8-2, ranked No. 4 in Class 5A and the defending state champions.
Sardis finished third in Region 6 while Central came in second to No. 9 Mortimer Jordan in Region 5.
Each team has played a challenging schedule. The Lions’ opponents this year have a combined 59-51 record. Of their 11 opponents, including Friday’s game, eight of them are in the postseason.
The Volunteers’ opponents combined for a 62-48 record. Six of their opponents are in the postseason. They lost a non-region game to 5A, No. 1 Jasper, a 10-0 team, by a final of 35-34 in double overtime Sept. 27.
Since Sardis made the playoffs in 2017, many of the players on this year’s team are used to the playoffs, the pressure and more intense atmosphere that comes with playing beyond the regular season.
But Central's also definitely no stranger to November football. The Volunteers have made the postseason every year of their existence, which began in 2012 after the consolidation of Lineville and Clay County high schools.
STABILITY UP TOP
Many programs in the area and around the state struggle to maintain coaching stability — but Sardis isn't one of them.
The Lions’ Gene Hill is in his ninth year leading the program, one he has guided into the playoffs five times. One thing that’s missing, though, is something that could be remedied Friday: a playoff victory.
The Volunteers just had a coaching change before the 2018 season, though it obviously didn’t have much of a detrimental effect — Danny Horn led Central to the state crown, his seventh, in his first season with a 12-3 record. Horn has coached for 31 years in the state and he’s led his team to the playoffs in all but four of those seasons.
WHO TO WATCH FOR
Sardis has a few weapons that the Volunteers will have to account for.
Receiver/tight end Jacob Hopper, a South Alabama commit, is a matchup problem for just about everybody with his 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame.
Quarterback Jay Owens does a good job getting the ball to Hopper while also running the offense and distributing the ball around to other playmakers, including athlete Temon Wilson and running back Luke Morris. The Lions will be challenged by a Central defense that gives up 13.5 per outing.
Quentin Knight carries the load in the running game for Central. He closed the regular season with 221 yards rushing and five touchdowns in a 40-21 win over Handley. Quarterback Boyd Ogles also is a standout.