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True grit vs. tradition

True grit will meet tradition Friday night as the Straughn Tigers will play host to the UMS-Wright Bulldogs in the first round of the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s Class 4A state playoffs.

UMS-Wright will be making the two-hour trek from Mobile to Tigers Stadium on the cusp of a 31-28 end of the regular season loss to rival St. Paul’s. Seventh-ranked Straughn played Daleville last Thursday night, and won 12-6.

SHS coach Trent Taylor said he knows what kind of team UMS-Wright brings to the table this week.

“There is a tremendous tradition down there,” Taylor said. “Those guys have been good for a long time. Certainly, ever since (UMS-Wright head) coach (Terry) Curtis has gotten there, and even before then.

“They’re very competitive, and you kind of not only play them as an opponent, but you play that tradition as well,” he said.

This is Curtis’ 12th season as the head football coach for the Bulldogs, and in the past eight years, UMS-Wright has won four state championships. This is UMS-Wright’s 17th straight playoff appearance. Curtis has never lost in the first round of the playoffs while at UMS-Wright.

Curtis returned the compliment about Taylor.

“They were fun to watch on film — I hate to be playing them,” Curtis said in a telephone interview. “Trent, and those guys have done a really good job. They really play hard, and are well-coached. You try to find some stuff to do this that and the other, but I think the biggest thing is that they’ve got some good players. I think the best thing they’ve got going for them is that they’re tough, and do the things it takes to win.”

UMS-Wright (6-4) has some impressive players on both sides of the ball as well.

The Bulldogs’ offense is led by senior running back Chris Dukes. At the end of the regular season, Dukes finished with 1,733 yards on the ground, and scored 28 touchdowns.

Taylor said it will be a challenge to face the likes of Dukes this Friday. In the last four weeks, the Tigers have given up only two touchdowns.

“Our defense has played extremely well over the last four weeks,” Taylor said. “I will say, stating the obvious, we haven’t faced a running back like Chris Dukes,” he said. “He’s a challenge for us. Our kids have seen him on film. I can tell you there’s a great deal of respect there. You don’t have to watch very many minutes to realize he’s got it.”

In passing, senior Auburn baseball commitment Chase Williamson was moved to the quarterback role from wide receiver last week. Williamson leads in receiving with 13 receptions for 236 yards and five touchdowns.

Senior linebacker Michael Cowart leads the Bulldogs in tackles with 93 (49 solo, 44 assists).

On Dukes, Taylor said the advantage he has in running the ball is his size.

“He’s short in stature, but real strong,” Taylor said. “I think when you ask what his style is, it’s more of a shifty type runner — a make you miss in the hole kind of a guy. He has the ability to stop on a dime, and shift directions.

“We’ve got to not miss tackles,” he said about stopping Dukes. “Unfortunately there again, hopefully by week 11, you’re more proficient at that.”

For Straughn, senior quarterback Josh Dewrell leads the Tigers in rushing and passing, where the option offense is more suited.

Dewrell is 24-of-53 for 540 yards and has seven touchdowns in passing, and rushed 832 yards on 150 carries and scored 19 touchdowns on the ground. His main target is senior wide receiver Austin Pickrel, who recorded 10 receptions for 303 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season.

“He’s a guy that you can tell is a leader with the ball in hands,” Curtis said about Dewrell.

In addition, sophomore Chase Short, who will play Friday night after suffering an injury last week, has rushed 837 yards on 121 carries and scored eight touchdowns this season.

This will be the first time UMS-Wright will face an option-style offense, Curtis said.

“It’s tough in three or four days (to prepare for the option),” Curtis said. “You’ve got to play assignment football, and unlike the old days, that’s not played much anymore.

“Nowadays, people just run up the field, and chase people,” he said. “I’ve always said that kind of offense is still working in today’s game. They’re one of the teams that are doing it, and showing that it works.”

Curtis added that it will be a good opportunity to play Straughn this week for the first time in his school’s history.

“I’ve known Trent a long time, and it’s the first time we’ve played them,” he said. “It’s fun watching them on film. It won’t be fun Friday night. I like the way they’ve got them coached up. I like the way they’ve got them motivated in playing hard. You don’t see that much in high school anymore. Those guys have done a great job.”

On Straughn’s defense, senior linebacker Nick Allen leads with 93 tackles (35 solo, 58 assists).

“When you look at their record, they lost four football games — two of them were against region opponents; the other two losses they have to 5A (No. 8) St. Paul’s (who won their region), and the other to 6A McGill Toolen,” Taylor said. “It’s a little bit decieving when you look at their record.”

Kickoff in Straughn is at 7 p.m.