Davidson vs. Murphy

There was only one game played in Alabama high school football on Saturday October 25th of this year, and that's just perfect. It was a game that deserved it's very own day. These two teams put up an epic 48-45 shootout, decided on the last breath. If you missed the first one, they are going to do it again Friday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

Someone who will prefer a different result is Davidson head coach Fred Riley. The first meeting saw his Warriors take a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and looked to all-the-world, the winner. This game had all the twists and intrigue that make football at any level the best reality show in the world.

Murphy (10-2) comes into the game as the region one champions with wins over Fairhope (6-5) 42-21 and a squeaker over a very physical Theodore (8-4) team 27-26.

Five of Murphy's wins have been by less than seven points. We would call them the Cardiac Kids except Davidson might want the title themselves.

Davidson (10-2) options in with an equal record. They too own five victories by less than seven points. ranks Davidson at a 124.2 power rating while Murphy has a 121.8 rank. All things being equal this should result in a two-point Davidson win, which for these two teams might be a comfortable margin.

Davidson defeated Foley (7-3) 20-17 in overtime in the first round of the state playoffs and defeated McGill-Toolen (9-3) 38-21 last week after rallying from a third-quarter deficit of 21-14.

The Warriors smelled blood in the water against the Jackets with senior quarterback Cullen Wacker hampered by a bad knee tossing up five interceptions while sophomore backup Preston Messer facing a fourth down from Davidson's 17 tossed the sixth and final pick of the evening.

Davidson's defensive secondary is deadly with 10 interceptions in the last two games. Juniors Donel Knight (5-9, 170) and Jimmie Ward (5-10, 150) snagged five Jacket passes last week while senior Keairon Wilson ran his prize back for a 65-yard touchdown.

Jimmie Ward
We talked to Coach Fred Riley this week and asked him about that defensive effort, and how the performance brings his team full circle to another date with Murphy.

"Truthfully, it all went back to a decision we made after we lost to Murphy," Riley recounts. "That game we led 31-14, and we ended up losing it 48-45. They scored with 11 seconds to go to beat us. We had really been a zone blitz team all year long."

"Blitz in void zone and keep the ball in front of us and try to make them figure out what zone we were avoiding. In that game we just got exposed (Murphy had 553 yards offensively). They hit us a few times in places where we were soft."

"We got together as a staff and said we think at this time we are playing good enough in every phase to be competitive in our playoff bracket. We can add the ability to play man coverage behind our pressure stuff."

Coach Riley and staff implemented the defensive change in the 10th game of the season, which tells you all you need to know about his eager pupils.

"We had a kid missing (against Murphy)," Riley said. "Jimmie Ward who intercepted three passes last week. He missed three games right in the middle of the season with a knee injury, and he was about 80-percent against Murphy in that game."

"With their wideouts as good as they are, he wasn't a guy, at that point in time, that was well enough to match up. We got him well around the B.C. Rain game, so he really missed four games. Then we worked hard during that B.C. Rain week preparing for the playoffs and adding man-coverage and man-free to our pressure stuff along with the other things we've been doing."

"We have intercepted 10 passes in two games. That has a lot to do with it, the ability to do that and to change the looks."

"We played two really good quarterbacks in the last two weeks. The quarterback from Foley, (Sophomore Darius Powell 5-10, 160) and the quarterback from McGill (Wacker 6-0, 195) are both good players. We just thought with the quarterbacks and the coaching staffs we were about to face we just weren't going to be able to beat them if we didn't take that calculated risk, and it has worked out for us."

We asked Riley the much-asked question since the new playoff format was created and so many resultant rematches, if there is any advantage for either team.

"I think when you get to this place, I think all games are separate entities to themselves," Riley answered.

"We beat McGill last week after beating them earlier in the season. That question ‘is it tough to beat the same team twice?' Yes, I guess so, but that is saying that the two teams are the same teams. That neither team has an injury, neither team has a different guy banged up, beat up and haven't gotten a different guy back. Unless you truly just play on back-to-back weeks, a month later, you're really not the same teams playing. You can't account for all the things that have gone on in the prior month."

"We played McGill seven weeks ago. We certainly were not the same two teams when we played last week. Then with us and Murphy, it has been a month, and we're not the same teams. We have adjusted some things, and they have gotten really proficient down the stretch at running the football out of their spread."

"So every week we are adjusting, adapting with the players we have available. So no, I don't see the first game having really any impact on this game at all."

For many, Coach Riley's offense is like taking a trip in a time capsule for those hungry to see football you grew up watching in the 70s.

We asked Coach Riley about the uniqueness of an offense that isn't new, but rarely used, and the problems it presents for fast moving defenses that are forced to go against type and hold their assignments and not react too quickly.

"We are the only team left in the south playoff bracket that isn't a spread offense," he said. "Mountain Brook and Hoover are spread teams also. So we take great pride in it. Our goal is to be the best option football team in the state, and that is our goal every year. To be the best at what we do."

"Really the biggest thing besides being committed to it is having a coaching staff that understands the system. All the assistant coaches understand the system, and the players understanding the system and being able to come to the sideline and say ‘coach they have done this, we're going to come back with this' and your eyes just light up and you say ‘exactly, you're getting it now."

"They understand that it's a counterpunch offense. You run a play and see how they defend it, and then you counterpunch them. Then you try to get a play ahead of them throughout the game, and when we're good at counterpunching we're pretty good at the other things."

"We certainly like being that team that is different. We're sort of the Georgia Tech of high school football right now in 6A and making people play option responsibility and work to defend the run, so that's what we do."

Coach Riley talked about the evolution of the spread and his defense facing off with these teams.

"We had to adjust some things over the last couple of years," he stated. One was the evolution of the spread offense. Our goals were to be the best option football team in the state and defeat the spread. Put together a defensive plan that would defeat spread offenses. We knew that it's the rage right now. So far Murphy has really been the only team that we struggled to stop defensively out of the spread."

"We are plus 18 in turnover margin for the year. In the playoffs we are plus 11. You've got a chance when you've done that. Even when you lose, it is going to be a close game."

"Truthfully, the teams we have had a hard time stopping are the big physical running teams. There just aren't many of those around anymore."

"Theodore was a terrible matchup for us. They have three big 300-pound linemen and a 250-pound running back and our heaviest guy on defense is 255. Their tailback was bigger than our heaviest kid. They just mauled us. We still won the game 41-39, but they mauled us physically."

Theodore's senior offensive lineman Sean Kennedy (6-5, 335) is verbally committed to South Alabama. Their running back is senior Justin McCreary (5-10, 250) who has an offer to South Alabama and has interest from several top schools.

A quarterback is crucial to the option offense as he is the decision maker, the heartbeat of each play, and we asked Coach Riley how junior Jarrell Smith fit what he was looking for.

Jarrell Smith
"Jarrell is a special, special kid," Riley answered. "He's 5-11 about 193 now. We certainly think that he is somebody that a Georgia Tech, Wofford, or people that are option football teams will look at when he is a senior. We are going to get him into their camps and let them evaluate him. He is a great leader. He is a kid with a high motor. He always comes to practice ready to practice with a big smile on his face and tremendous enthusiasm."

"He just loves playing football. He loves what he's doing, and it is just very contagious. Our kids love him because his energy level at practice makes everybody else better."

"He's a running physical quarterback, great decision maker who throws the ball well downfield. He doesn't throw great in the intermediate passing zones, but he throws the deep ball very well. So when people load us up he throws the post pattern well, and he throws the go-route well. He throws the post-corner well."

"The throws that your shoulders are a little more elevated on, he makes those throws extremely well. He's got work to do in terms of being able to throw the short and intermediate passes and be better, but again we don't throw those very often either. So it's hard to get good at something if you don't do it."

"We tend to throw the ball deep. He has gotten very, very good at that. That's what Georgia Tech does, that's what traditional option teams do."

"The guy that broadcasts our games said the other night after we threw a play-action-pass, post for a touchdown that it looked like the old Alabama Wishbone with Rutledge throwing it to Ozzie Newsome. It is that same kind of stuff."

"You don't throw it a lot, but when you throw it you average 23 yards a catch and that's what he's good at."

"We had Quinton Pierce (at quarterback) for three years, and Jarrell was the JV quarterback as a 10th grader. He paid attention, learned the system and when his time came he was ready to play. He's done a great job."

Matt Rowser
Smith has a strong partner in senior fullback Martin Broughton (5-11, 190), look for him to have a big night. He tallied 189 yards and four touchdowns in the last meeting.

Coach Ronn Lee and Murphy will bring their potent duo of senior quarterback Matt Rowser (5-10, 180) and junior receiver Solomon Patton (5-9, 165) back for an encore. This is the duo that completed the winning touchdown pass against Davidson.

Rowser has thrown for over 2,200 yards this season while rushing for 840 yards. Patton has caught 831 yards worth of passes while senior receiver Raphael Poellnitz (6-0, 175) has caught another 807 yards. Senior running back Sam Hobson (5-5, 170) accumulated better than 600 yards on the ground thus far.

Solomon Patton

Listen to this contest Friday night at 7PM: WNSP 105.5 FM [click here].

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