With win to their credit, Eagles now look for a streak
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
One might think a team's first win might cause a big change in morale and attitude. That has not been the case with the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles this week although not necessarily for the reasons one might assume.
The Blue Eagles broke into the victory column for the first time last Friday when they knocked off Class 3A Region 1 foe Dale County 36-27. They will try to make it a winning streak Friday when they make the long journey to Abbeville where they will face the Yellow Jackets at 7:30 p.m.
"It's been a bit of a different feeling for our players this week coming off a win, a good feeling. Yet we've been pretty upbeat througout the season. The players continued to work hard throughout the time we were 0-4," Smothers said.
If W.S. Neal had any aspirations of reaching the playoffs, Smothers said his team had to beat Dale County. The W.S. Neal coach has the same viewpoint towards the Abbeville game.
"Right now we're tied with Dale County for fifth in the region and we do have the head-to-head tiebreaker against them now. We should have an opportunity to move up in the standings when some of the teams ahead of us in the region play each other and knock each other off. Right now we have to focus our attention towards Abbeville. For all intent, we're still in a must-win situation," Smothers said.
Abbeville, known a lot more for its success in basketball than football, crushed Barbour County 62-0 in its season opener. Since then the Yellow Jackets (0-3 in Region 1 and 1-4 overall) have dropped successive games Dale County, Straughn, Houston County and most recently to Pike County 41-0 last week. Abbeville had a season low 24 yards total offense and minus 24 yards rushing in that Pike County game.
"When you coach a sport at a school that has a lot more tradition and success in another sport, it's tough to overcome that mentality. One thing Abbeville has going for them is they've got a few more players out this season (31) than they've had and they've got some of their basketball athletes out, which they haven't had much of
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in recent years," Smothers said.
The W.S. Neal secondary may get its toughest and busiest workout of the season against the Yellow Jackets. After they allowed a whopping 369 yards passing in losses to Slocomb and Trinity Presbyterian, the Blue Eagles limited Dale County to 72 passing yards.
Abbeville figures to test that secondary with quarterback D.J. Wiggins (5-11, 159 lb. soph.). Pierre Stanford (5-10, 166 lb. sr.) and John Grubbs (6-1, 203 lb. sr.) have been his favorite targets.
"Wiggins has a good arm and he can throw on the run. Their receivers have pretty good hands," Smothers said. "We played with the mindset we would give up the short stuff but not the deep ball against Dale County. We're approaching Abbeville the same way. Abbeville has a lot of speed and is capable of making the big play if you don't tackle well."
When the Yellow Jackets keep the ball on the ground, they usually rely on tailback Marcus Cotton (5-9, 191 lb. jr.).
"We've faced a lot of fast backs this season and Cotton is another one," Smothers said.
W.S. Neal is coming off the Dale County game where it not only posted its first win, but the Blue Eagles posted season highs for points scored (36) and offensive yardage (332).
The Blue Eagles got a variety of contributions. Running backs Mario Daniel (95) and Jake Bailey (42) combined for 137 yards rushing last week.
"Mario and Jake are starting to form a good one-two punch. When we got Jake back on the offensive side a couple of weeks ago, it has made a big difference for us. Jake is a good blocker and what back wouldn't be excited about running behind him," Smothers said.
Wide receivers Johnathan Alexander and Ben Crane divided four catches for 129 yards and a touchdown.
"Both Johnathan and Ben are starting to establish themselves as good receivers. They both have pretty good hands and they both have deceiving speed after the catch," Smothers said.
The Blue Eagles switched quarterbacks in the second half against Dale County, as Justin Smith took over for Daniel Hodge. Smith completed four of six passes for 60 yards in addition to 47 yards he gained on the ground.
"Justin did a good job in our option game in the second half of that game and made some big plays for us. In addition to Justin and Daniel, Marquis Barksdale is getting closer and closer to fitting into that equation as well so we've got some options we can go with at quarterback," Smothers said.
The Blue Eagles will still be without tight end/linebacker Cry Freeman this week (hamstring). However, W.S. Neal is expected to get back wide receiver/defensive back Brennan Beasley. Beasley has been out since the exhibition game against Andalusia.