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Bobcats wary of Colbert Heights ground game

Phil Campbell football coach Ryan Swinney was watching game film of Colbert Heights at his home on Sunday afternoon when a faulty internet connection forced him to take a break.

It was just as well. Swinney has seen more than enough of Wildcat quarterback Kevin Shaw in real life—not to mention in his nightmares.

“We haven’t stopped him yet,” Swinney said of the speedy and elusive Shaw, who sliced up the Bobcat defense for 129 yards on just 11 carries last August in a 47-26 Colbert Heights win. “They ran the ball on us and scored forty-something points. We moved the ball pretty good on them, but we had a hard time stopping them. I don’t know if we ever did. That’s something we’re definitely concerned about—they run the ball pretty well.”

‘Pretty well’ doesn’t even begin to describe what the Wildcats did to Phil Campbell on the ground a year ago, when they piled up a season-high 473 rushing yards at Amos Mitchell Stadium. Containing that ground attack is priority number one for the Bobcats (1-0) in this Friday’s rematch with Colbert Height (1-0), and it starts with slowing down Shaw.

“The quarterback, obviously, stands out,” said Swinney, whose team opened the season on Friday with a 54-6 rout of Tharptown. “He’s pretty athletic, and he throws the ball well, too. He’s got a strong arm. He didn’t throw it a lot last week, but he can. There was one play where he was rolling away from his strong side and threw it about fifty yards in the air.

“But, obviously, the running is the first thing that stands out at you. He’s gonna beat ninety-five percent of people out in space. That’s why it’s so important to get as many people as you can to the football. If you don’t, playing a kid like that, he can break one and make a big play at any time.”

Red Bay’s defense largely held Shaw in check this past Friday, with the exception of one 29-yard run in the first quarter. He finished with 42 yards on six carries (and just one completion, for 12 yards, in four attempts) in a 14-6 win, but the Wildcats have a few other weapons at their disposal.

Senior fullback Dylan Chandler (6’2, 180) was the workhorse for head coach Taylor Leathers, grinding out 54 yards and two touchdowns on 15 attempts, while senior Chandler Willis and junior Braden McCaig combined to rush for 95 yards on just three carries apiece. The fleet-footed McCaig ripped off a 91-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, but a block-in-the-back penalty against the Wildcats negated the score and knocked it down to a 29-yard gain. Willis, meanwhile, set up Chandler’s second touchdown run of the night late in the fourth quarter with a 43-yard burst down the right sideline.

As a team, Colbert Heights rushed for 185 yards on 27 carries, a solid average of nearly seven yards a pop.

“It all goes through the quarterback,” Swinney said, “but if you worry too much about him they have some other guys with pretty good speed who can hurt you. It’s not just the quarterback. They have a running back who’s pretty big and some slot guys who are pretty quick. They’re not bad, for sure.”

Swinney was particularly impressed with how well Colbert Heights played up front defensively against a physical Red Bay rushing attack. The Wildcats made 14 tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage and limited the Tigers to just 3.7 yards per carry.

“They were really good up front,” said Swinney, whose team rushed for 264 yards last Friday at Tharptown. “Red Bay is known for running the ball, and Colbert Heights stood up well against it. I thought our offensive line blocked well last week. Tharptown was bringing their linebackers every play, but we were able to pick them up and still run the ball.

“At the same time, seeing what [Colbert Heights] did at the line of scrimmage against Red Bay, and knowing what Red Bay likes to do, we’re probably gonna have to spread it out some. We’ll spread them out and throw the ball some—how much depends on how things go.”

Last year at Colbert Heights, the Bobcats fell behind early and had no choice but to air it out; they went to a no-huddle offense late in the first half and stuck with it the rest of the night, nearly making a game out of it before the Wildcats finally pulled away. Phil Campbell quarterback Peyton Thomas, then a junior, wound up throwing for 225 yards and two touchdowns in the loss, and he’ll get another shot on Friday at a Colbert Heights pass defense that didn’t get tested much by Red Bay until late in the game.

“Peyton throws it as good as anybody around here,” Swinney said of Thomas, who threw for 109 yards and a score on 6-for-10 passing against Tharptown and now has 31 touchdown passes since the start of his sophomore season. “And we had some guys catch the ball pretty well last week.”

Senior wideout Daniel Smith led the Bobcats last week with two catches for 48 yards and a touchdown. Senior tight end Brody Nix caught a 20-yard pass, and sophomore receiver Ben Williams had one catch for 18 yards. Brandon Thomas (77 yards and a touchdown on seven carries) and Seth Brindley (61 yards and a touchdown on three carries) led the ground attack, combining to rush for 138 yards on just 10 attempts. Fullback Imer Ordonez added six carries for 25 yards and a score and drew rave reviews from Swinney as a lead blocker.

Defensively, the Bobcats picked off three passes—one each by Williams, Brindley and sophomore safety Brandon Baker, who returned his for a touchdown. Swinney was also pleased with the way coordinator Jonathan Raper’s defense rallied to the football—something that will be paramount against Shaw and the Wildcats on Friday.

“Our guys were pretty physical,” Swinney said. “They got after it pretty good and got to the ball. It wasn’t just one guy getting to the ball. We had several guys making tackles, and you always like to see that.

“I didn’t really know what to expect going into the game. All we had to go on was the spring game, but I was pleasantly surprised. We didn’t make a whole lot of mistakes. We didn’t have a lot of penalties, and we didn’t turn the ball over. The competition is definitely gonna get better this week. Our next four weeks are brutal. But these guys are working hard at it. They want to play, and they’re excited.”

The Bobcats’ 54 points last week were their most in a single game since September of 2003, when they beat Carbon Hill 56-20.

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