Jeremy Perkins has moved on, and the Austin High football coach hopes his players have done the same.
Austin’s loss at Florence last week? Perkins said it’s in the rearview mirror. His only concern now is how the Black Bears respond moving forward.
Still, the emotions are new. For the first time this season, Austin has a blemish on its record, and the Class 6A 10th-ranked Black Bears (7-1) have gone from Region 8 favorite to fighting for home-field advantage.
But Austin has a chance to correct course tonight in the Region 8 finale at Bob Jones. Win the game, and Austin can finish no lower than second in the region. Lose, and Austin is guaranteed the third seed and a road trip to metro Birmingham in the opening round of the playoffs.
“We’ve had a decent week of practice, and the players seem to have put it behind them,” said Perkins, who is in his third season as Austin’s head football coach. “I think they’re ready to play, but you can’t really tell if there are any residual effects until the game starts.
“As a coach, I think the best cure would be to kick this thing off and get off to a good start.”
Returning to the win column won’t be easy. Standing in the way is a Bob Jones team that is one the hottest in the region.
Since suffering a 42-14 upset to Hazel Green in Week 4, Bob Jones (6-2) responded with four straight wins. The Patriots climbed back into contention for the program’s fourth straight Region 8 title.
Bob Jones coach Kevin Rose said it took a while to overcome the loss of 18 starters from last year. He also lost half of his freshmen and sophomores when Clemens High opened in August.
“The biggest issue early was turnovers,” Rose said. “We had four turnovers in each of our two losses. We’ve done a better job of hanging on to the football.”
The Patriots’ turnaround is the product of a blistering running game, with Jay Rogers and Kevin Wright running behind right guard Brandon Ray (6-2, 280 pounds) and right tackle Jordan Shelton (6-7, 280). The two linemen have 30 straight starts for the Patriots.
Rogers and Wright have combined for 1,366 yards and 19 touchdowns this season.
Rose said his biggest concern with Austin is its speed, especially on defense. He said Black Bear running back Josh Walker is his defense’s main worry.
“No. 24 (Walker) is probably the best player in the region,” Rose said. “He can beat you by himself.”
Perkins said the key for Austin is simple: The Black Bears can’t beat themselves.
Self-inflicted wounds were an issue last week at Florence. Austin struggled with pass protection, with quarterback Chris Sparkman getting sacked several times. The Black Bears also turned the ball over four times.
“We’ve got to control our emotions,” Perkins said. “Bob Jones is a very good football team, one with speed and size, so it’s important that we limit our mistakes, win the turnover battle and play well in all three phases of the game.”
Rose said turnovers and special teams are the key in any championship game.
“Whoever makes the big play will probably win,” Rose said.
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