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ROAD TO STATE STARTS HERE: FHS Wildcats look to seize playoff opportunity

The Florala Wildcats (5-5) hope to pull off an upset Friday night as they take on top-ranked Lanett in the first round of the Class 1A state playoffs.

“We are very glad to be playing this week,” Florala head coach Scott Mason said. “Just making it to the playoffs is a big change around here. Now that we’ve gotten to this point, what we have to do now is expect to do something with this opportunity. Our job is to act like we’ve been there before.”

Mason said that the Wildcats can’t get wrapped up in the moment.

“We’ve been telling them to just go out there stay calm, enjoy the moment and realize it’s just another game,” Mason said. “We don’t have to add any extra pressure on ourselves. Yes it’s the playoffs and yes it’s a big game, but it’s still just a game. It’s an important game, but we don’t have to feel any pressure. There aren’t going to be many people around the state that are going to give us a chance at beating the defending 2A state champions.”

Lanett won the Class 2A championship and then moved down to Class 1A this season where they have gone 8-1, only losing to Class 5A Valley. Lanett only graduated three players from last year’s state championship team.

It won’t be the first ranked team that Florala has played this year. The Wildcats faced numerous Class 1A schools in their region that were ranked and chose to play their non-region games against ranked Class 3A opponents.

“We scheduled tough teams to prepare us for this moment,” Mason said. “We’ve faced some good players this year so we shouldn’t be in awe of these guys. Every team we lost to this year was ranked in the top 10 in their classification. We played pretty well against those teams. Houston Academy was ranked in the top five in Class 3A and we played them down to the wire. We’ve played some tough opponents and that is going to help us.”

The Wildcats know they have a tough challenge ahead of them.

“They are big, physical and loaded with athletes,” Mason said. “They aren’t your typical big and physical team because they like to spread the ball around. Their quarterback has eight college offers and they have a nose guard that has offers from every SEC school. They are pretty multiple on offense by running jet sweep and power, but they will also throw the ball vertically.”

Mason said that a lot of the game will depend on how the Wildcats play on defense.

“I think the game hinges on how well our defense plays,” Mason said. “They have a good offense, but we are pretty good on offense also. If our defense can make some big plays and get us the ball, we will be OK. I know that we won’t stop them every time down the field, but if we can stop them half of the time then we will be OK.”

The team is ready for the opportunity to compete in the playoffs.

“The kids are very excited for the opportunity to play,” Mason said. “We’ve had some good practices this week and we are still getting after each other. It’s always good to play extra football games. This extra week off was big for us. We were able to put in some more stuff in the offense. Right now, we’ve only got about 30 percent of the offense in place. It usually takes about three years to get most everything in and we are in year two right now.”

Mason said that the community has been extremely supportive of the team.

“The community and our fans are so excited,” Mason said. “We’ve had so many people turning up to help us. It’s been a long time since Florala has had this opportunity. We greatly appreciate the support.”

Florala and Lanett are set to begin at 7 p.m., Friday in Lanett.