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franklin county times

Crunch time

By Staff
Mike Self FCT Sports Editor
As far as Vina coach Bill Smith is concerned, the playoffs begin with this week's game at Hazlewood.
"This is our first playoff game," Smith said. "It's just like the first round to us. We're either in or we're out. There is no in between."
The state playoffs don't offically get underway until November 12, but if the Red Devils have any intention of being there they must leave Town Creek with a win on Friday.
Vina (4-4, 3-3 Class 1A, Region 8) is currently tied with the Golden Bears (3-5, 3-3) for fourth place in the region standings. The winner of Friday's game clinches a playoff berth. The loser is eliminated from postseason contention.
"I don't think there's any doubt that this is our biggest game since I've been here," said Smith, in his fifth season as head coach. "We're having as good a season as we've ever had, and the kids have worked really hard to get to this point. I think they'll do fine."
A postseason berth for the Red Devils would be the culmination of a long and arduous journey that has seen them go from a downtrodden program that struggled to field a varsity team to a bonified contender with legitimate playoff aspirations.
Smith has been there through it all, as have seniors Kerry Lawler, Shannon Ozbirn, Gary Taylor and Ryan Umfress.
Lawler, Taylor and Umfress all started on the varsity squad as eighth-graders in Smith's first season at Vina.
"Our people have been behind this program for the whole five years I've been here," Smith said. "They've watched these kids work and suffer and take their beatings, and they've watched them play with a lot of heart. When our baseball team made the playoffs last year, our fans were really fired up. I know everybody will be really excited and happy for the kids if we can make it, too."
Making it doesn't figure to be quite as easy as it appeared back in mid-September, when the Red Devils were originally scheduled to travel to Hazlewood. The Golden Bears were struggling then, and Vina was chomping at the bit after a 2-1 start.
Hurricane Ivan put everything on hold, however, postponing all Week Four games until this week. Now the Golden Bears seem to have found their way, defeating Hackleburg 28-21 and Phillips 51-7 after taking top-ranked R.A. Hubbard to the limit in a 26-21 loss.
"They're definitely playing better now," Smith said. "I would rather have played them back in Week Four when we had the edge in momentum, but I still think we've got a good shot."
The Red Devils were riding high after dominating region rival Shoals Christian 33-13 two weeks ago, but that momentum took a hit with last week's 60-0 loss to R.A. Hubbard. Vina had the misfortune of facing the undefeated Chiefs one week after their attention was refocused with a narrow 21-14 victory over Speake.
"[Hubbard] had been in a little bit of a lull, and we were hoping it would continue for one more week," Smith said. "But they snapped out of it pretty good. We took a pretty good drubbing, which is unusual for these kids, but that's behind us. We're not going to let that affect us this week."
The Red Devils have plenty to worry about without dwelling on last week's loss. First and foremost on their to-do list, according to Smith, is putting the clamps on Keyvan Madden, Hazlewood's versatile scoring threat.
In addition to catching a pair of touchdown passes last week, Madden also returned a kickoff 63 yards for a touchdown and scored from 46 yards out on a fake punt in the Golden Bears' victory over Hackleburg.
"[Madden] is an exceptional athlete with a lot of quickness," Smith said. "He's a split-end, but they'll move him all over the place and play him pretty much wherever they want to put him. We have to do a good job of containing him and the Ricks kid [quarterback SaNorris]. They've got a lot of good athletes."
Aside from Hazlewood's overall team speed, another concern for Smith has to be the fact that the Golden Bears' situation is just as urgent as Vina's.
"They need a win to get in, too," Smith said. "They have a chance to finish third in the region, but if they lose, they're eliminated. So it's a must-win situation for both of us."
Smith said he's not overly concerned about the Golden Bears having a big homefield advantage.
"Obviously, we'd rather have it at our place, but in a game like this where both teams are fighting for their playoff lives, I don't think it matters much where the game is played," he said.

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