WSN, Straughn enter matchup in identical spot
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
Do not get the wrong impression. The W.S. Neal Blue Eagles are excited about the Class 3A playoff berth they clinched Friday with their 63-6 win over Calhoun.
With that mission accomplished, the Blue Eagles have raised their goals. W.S. Neal not only has a chance to improve its postseason position, but it still has a chance to grab a home game for the opening round of the playoffs. The Blue Eagles are also still alive in the race for the Region 1 championship.
W.S. Neal (4-1 in region play and 6-1 overall) will have a chance to work on each of those goals Friday when it visits the Straughn Tigers in a 7:30 p.m. contest.
"We're excited about getting a playoff berth, but we don't want to be satisfied with just that. The next goal we'd like to achieve is to finish in the top two in our region and get a home game for the first round of the playoffs," W.S. Neal coach Shane Smothers said. "We haven't given up hope of winning the region, but we need help in order to do that. Right now we're only worried about the things we can control."
The Tigers (4-1 in region play and 6-1 overall) are in the exact same position as W.S. Neal. Straughn also clinched its playoff berth Friday when it downed Elba 41-26. The Tigers are still in the running for the region championship, but need help. Both teams have won five games in a row.
"It's a huge game for both us. The winner moves into a tie for second place in our region, while the loser drops to fourth and is out of the region title hunt," Smothers said. "Not only are we alike in record, but we both play similar styles. Games like this usually come down to who makes the least amount of mistakes."
Straughn has beaten teams through the air and on the ground. Quarterback Justin Bracewell (6-1, 160 lb. sr.) has completed 44 of 91 passes for 820 yards with nine touchdowns.
"Bracewell is the leader of their offense. He does a good job of spreading the ball around," Smothers said.
Bracewell has relied a lot on three receivers. Jamie Straughn (5-10, 170 lb. jr.) has hauled in 12 receptions for 192 yards with three touchdowns, while Justin Feeney (5-7, 135 lb. fr.) has caught 11 passes for 216 yards with two scores. Al Feeney (6-1, 195 lb. soph.) has caught nine balls for 180 yards and two touchdowns.
While Straughn has an effective passing game, the Tigers' running game is probably even more dangerous.
The main threat is Michael Hobbs (5-9, 195 lb. sr.). Hobbs has rushed for 820 yards on 116 attempts with five touchdowns.
"We have to do a good job against Hobbs and that won't be easy. He has both speed and strength," Smothers said.
The Straughn offense will meet a W.S. Neal defense that has forced 16 turnovers the last four weeks, 10 of which have come the last two weeks. Defense produced three touchdowns against Calhoun.
"In recent weeks, our defensive players have scored about as many points as they've allowed. The defense has been outstanding, but it will need to be even better Friday," Smothers said.
Smothers wants some of the defensive load to be carried by his team's offense.
"We need to keep their offense off the field with some sustained drives," Smothers said.
Smothers said his offensive unit must find a way to slow down linebacker Brent Nall (6-2, 225 lb. sr.).
"Nall is by far the best linebacker we have seen so far. He causes a lot of havoc," Smothers said.