Published 12:02 am Friday, November 15, 2013

Straughn’s offensive line runs through drills Tuesday afternoon at practice. The Tigers kick off the second round tonight against Dale County in Midland City. | Andrew Garner/Star-News

Straughn’s offensive line runs through drills Tuesday afternoon at practice. The Tigers kick off the second round tonight against Dale County in Midland City. | Andrew Garner/Star-News

Straughn will be matching up against a “very, very good” Dale County football team tonight in the second round of the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s Class 3A state playoffs in Midland City.

The Tigers are coming off a 42-0 blowout over Northside in the first round. During last week’s game, SHS came out early and controlled the game from the start.

Tigers coach Trent Taylor said the Warriors (11-0) have gotten to their undefeated status through their talented athletes.

“Of course, the one everybody talks about is Jamarius Henderson,” Taylor said. “He is being mentioned by some pretty major Division 1 schools, including Alabama and Kentucky, and others.

“They have a quarterback (Trey McMillan), who is just as special of an athlete,” he said. “They’re big up front. It’ll be a tremendous challenge.”

Taylor is right about Henderson. The running back has posted around 2,071 yards rushing to average 188.3 a game with 32 touchdowns. He is also a defensive threat at linebacker, taking the lead in the tackling department on the team. Henderson was average 11.1 per game.

McMillan at QB averaged 67.3 yards rushing and has 10 TDs on the ground. In the air, he has 67.5 yards with seven scores and only one interception in 76 attempts.

Additionally, there is a wide receiver, Dylan Gulledge, who is listed at 6-3 and 211 pounds who is a viable threat.

“(McMillan’s) not scared to throw to any of them,” Taylor said. “All of them have certainly made some impressive plays.”

DCHS has dabbled in running their offensive weapons out of either the zone read or option, the coach said.

“They are running a little zone read that you see in a lot of colleges,” Taylor said. “I don’t think it’s a major part of their offense. They’ve done so much in the films that we’ve seen from an offensive stand point. Because of the athletes they have doing it, it makes it look pretty good.”

When asked whether it’s advantageous to run a multiple look on offense, Taylor said the long and short of it for the Warriors is to get the ball in Henderson’s hands.

The Warriors run their defense out of a 3-4 formation with defensive back Jeffery Whatley leading the charge, along with Henderson.

“When you throw the ball, if you look on film, he’s back there on coverage,” Taylor said about Whatley. “He’s the first guy to step into the fullback (slot).”

So far this season, the Warriors have allowed only 10.9 points per game and have posted five shutouts. In two other games, DCHS’s defense allowed a kickoff return for a TD in each of those games to Houston Academy, and last week against B.B. Comer.

Tonight’s game will be the second year in a row that Straughn will face an undefeated team from the same region. The Tigers played Daleville in the first round last year. The Warriors play out of Region 2.

It all just fell that way, Taylor said about the match up.

“I think in talking to some different coaches, I think the biggest difference this year with Dale County is their physicalness,” he said. “They are a very, very physical football team. You can see that on film.

“We had an opportunity to go over and watch them on Thursday (Oct. 31) in Ozark,” he said. “It was certainly apparent seeing them live. They’re physical in nature. I think that probably has been the biggest key to their success this year.”

Like during any game of the season, ball security is important, Taylor said. He added that in the postseason, that mantra holds true even more so.

“The further you go in the playoffs, and (SHS offensive coordinator) coach (Ray) Wilson has said this for as long as I can remember. That, from the second round on, there’s a whole lot of luck involved. May be not luck, but breaks,” Taylor said. “In every classification, there are 16 football teams left. Chances are if you take the eight that are left in the South, you probably come up with a different scenario each time. The turnovers, missed assignments — that’s true with any game. It just becomes more prevalent in the playoffs.”

The Tigers took a big blow to their defense last week when linebacker Nick Stepp, a senior, broke his leg on a play.

Taylor said Stepp was originally scheduled to have surgery last Sunday, but the doctors were able to set the bone back in place.

“It’s a huge loss for us,” Taylor said. “We talked about it (Monday) at the end of practice. Nick was no doubt the heart and soul of our team, defensively. Even probably more than that, he was a tremendous leader for us.”

Taylor said in the few times he and SHS defensive coordinator John Fussell talked with Stepp over the weekend, the senior was handling the injury well.

“He’s very unselfish,” Taylor said. “He said it’s not about me, we still have our goals intact. He’s a special young man and I hate if for him. If it had to happen to somebody from a selfish stand point, I wish it hadn’t happened to Nick, but from a young man that can handle it, there’s probably not a better one on the football team who can say that yeah, my football career is over, and it ended in the first round and my teammates are still going to battle. Nick can handle that.”

Taylor said Stepp will be on the sidelines for tonight’s game.

Kickoff tonight in Midland City is at 7.