The first round of the Alabama High School Athletic Association state playoffs opens this weekend for 15 teams in the River Region. One of the more intriguing matchup is the only one involving two local teams as Holtville (7-3) travels to Montgomery to play Catholic (7-3) on Friday night.
Holtville is returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2010, which is the last time the Bulldogs won more than two games in a season.
“Coach (Jason) Franklin has done a great job there,” Catholic coach Aubrey Blackwell said. “They’re one of the most improved programs (in the state) in the last couple of years. He’s done a great job with those kids. They’re playing with confidence.
“They do a really good job of spreading it out, throwing on time and the quarterback (Braxton Buck) does a good job with his accuracy and protects the football. They have a couple of receivers that do a good job of going and getting it.”
Buck is coming off a five-touchdown performance in a 70-6 win over archrival and winless Marbury. While the Knights prepared for the playoffs by beefing up their schedule with T.R. Miller, Anniston, Tallassee and Beauregard as non-region opponents, Blackwell’s team has yet to face a team that will throw the ball like Holtville.
“We haven’t played a true four-wide (offense), a team that’s going to throw it 30 times,” Blackwell said. “We haven’t seen that. They’re good at what they do. I do like our matchups in the secondary, but they do a good job of finding the weaknesses so it’s going to be important for us to make plays and get some pressure on the quarterback.”
Catholic will counter with a running attack led by Darrell Gibson and an oversized defensive front that includes the 290-pound Cole Faucheux and the 285-pound CJ Person.
“We’ve really challenged our defensive line to make pressure and get pressure when we need it,” Blackwell said. “Make him uncomfortable.”
While the Bulldogs are coming off an impressive win, the Knights are trying to rebound from a disappointing loss after losing the region championship at Headland two weeks ago.
“We’ve got everybody healthy,” Blackwell said. “We had a couple of starters out versus Headland and we’ve got them back. We had a great off week last week, got people healed up and got back to the fundamentals. Our guys are mentally ready. We fell short of the region championship but their eyes are still on Auburn.”
Reaching the Super Seven, however, will be difficult in a playoff bracket that includes American Christian and perennial favorite UMS-Wright.
“It would’ve been an easier path if we would have won the region championship,” Blackwell admitted. “Either way, to earn this state championship you’re got to go through UMS-Wright and through American Christian. We haven’t really thought about it or talked about it. We have to worry about Holtville.”