With a first-year football program, it takes a while to find the gauge to determine the level of your program.
Success Unlimited Academy coach Bill Granger got a better idea after Thursday’s 51-20 loss to defending Class AAA state champion Monroe Academy.
“We’ve got work to do, fundamentally,” Granger said. “And we’ve got to just continue to improve. I actually saw a few bright spots out there tonight. Only when you play a really good team with really good fundamentals can you really get a good feel for what we’re (not) doing.”
His defense, which had looked so solid in a season opening loss at Springwood and a home opening win over Pickens, was shredded by the rushing tandem of Grayson Stacey and Corey Barnes. His offense, which struggled for continuity in the first two games, actually looked a little better with Isaiah Jackson taking over at quarterback and splitting quarterback Jamari Smith out at receiver.
“(Smith) is a really good athlete, an exceptional athlete,” Monroe coach Mitchell Tuberville said. “Putting him at receiver, that’s definitely a weapon that we really weren’t prepared for. That was a good move on their part.”
The move actually exploited the weak link in the Volunteers’ defense, Tuberville explained.
“Our secondary has been giving us problems all year,” he said. “That’s the biggest concern for us. Nobody’s been able to run the football on us at all this year but people are going to see film and they’re going to throw it every down, like they did, and I don’t blame them.”
Tuberville lost his region opener in his first season at Monroe in 2006 but hasn’t lost one since. The Volunteers won their 19th consecutive region game – posting a 56-1 region record in the last 11 years – and won for the 101st time in 107 games over that same 11-year span.
So when Monroe (4-0) scored on a punt return, added a pair of rushing touchdowns later in the first quarter and another a minute into the second quarter for a 25-0 lead, it didn’t seem too surprising. What was entertaining, however, was the Mustangs’ response. Jackson hit Smith with a 76-yard touchdown pass and after another rushing touchdown by the Vols, Jackson connected with Smith for another touchdown, this one covering 45 yards.
A third Jackson-to-Smith touchdown pass late in the first half was negated by offensive pass interference. The Mustangs drove down the field to open the third quarter before a Jackson pass was intercepted, triggering an 81-yard drive capped by Stacey’s 14-yard touchdown run and a 38-14 lead.
“If we could have (scored late in the first half) and then the opening drive (of the second half), that’s why (the last possession of the first half and the first of the second half) are so big,” Granger said. “I’m not taking anything away from (Monroe) but it is pretty much a turning point in the ballgame.”
Jackson fired his third touchdown pass on the ensuing drive, a 53-yard pass to Dedrick Freeman, to make it 38-20 but Stacey scored on the first play of the fourth quarter and Barnes added a 16-yard touchdown run on the Volunteers’ next possession to pull away.
Granger said Smith will continue to play quarterback for the Mustangs, but Jackson offers another option.
“Isaiah joined us right before the season started (because of travel baseball) and he’s been a work in progress,” Granger said. “Last week (against Pickens), we played in a quagmire and it’s just two different styles. I have faith in both of them and they both have a lot of strengths.”
Tuberville, meanwhile, saw some potential in the first-year program, comparing the Mustangs to a similar type of private school in Fairfield, Restoration Academy, that joined the Alabama Independent School Association in 2008 and won a state championship four years later.
“They’ve got really good athletes,” he said. “They hurt us a lot throwing the football tonight. They kind of remind me of a young Restoration team in the league, a lot of good players but it may take them a year or two to get comfortable with what they’re doing. But with the caliber of athletes they have, I think they can be a really good team.”