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franklin county times

Gadsden coach wary of Russellville's big plays

By Staff
Mike Self FCT Sports Editor
Tonight's first-round playoff game between Russellville and Gadsden will be a reunion of sorts for Golden Tiger head coach Perry Swindall and his counterpart, Tiger coach Joe Billingsley.
"I've known Perry for about 20 years," said Billingsley, who has guided Gadsden to a 7-3 record this season. "I played and coached at Jacksonville State, and some of our guys used to work out with some Oneonta players when Perry was the coach there. He's one of the top coaches in the state, and I know he'll have his guys ready to play."
At first glance, Russellville and Gadsden seemed to be two teams heading in opposite directions.
Since dropping their season-opener to Deshler, the Golden Tigers have ripped off nine straight wins, ascending to the No. 1 ranking in Class 5A and capturing their fourth consecutive Region 8 crown along the way.
The Tigers, meanwhile, opened the season 6-0 and rose all the way to No. 3 in the 5A poll before losing three of their last four games.
"We started out really strong, but then we got to the meat of our schedule and we struggled a little bit," Billingsley said. "But we bounced back to beat Emma Sansom in our last game."
Billingsley said that his team can not afford to make mistakes if they hope to knock off the Golden Tigers, who have advanced to the 5A state championship game in Birmingham each of the past two seasons.
"We have to avoid turnovers and costly penalties, things of that nature," he said. "Russellville is not the type of team you can make mistakes against and hope to stay competitive. They're too well-coached in every facet of the game. If we can keep our mistakes to a mininum, we'll have a chance to stay with them."
Billingsley also expressed concern about Russellville's big-play ability on both sides of the football.
"They can hit you with a big play on offense and on defense," he said. "We can't give up too many of those, or we'll be in trouble."
The Golden Tiger offense is averaging more than 40 points and 400 yards of offense per game, but Swindall is pleased with the improvement he has seen on the defensive side of the ball.
After allowing an average of 23 points in their first four games, the Golden Tigers have surrendered just 15 points per game over their past six.
That includes last Friday's 42-0 victory over playoff-bound Colbert County, Russellville's first shutout of the season.
"I think the biggest difference is we're playing more people on that side of the ball," Swindall said. "Instead of a guy playing 30 or 40 snaps a game, we've got a bunch of guys playing about 15 to 18 snaps a game. That keeps them fresh and allows them to really turn it loose while they're on the field. Our guys have really been playing hard, and it's starting to pay off."
The Golden Tigers assumed the top ranking in Class 5A this week thanks to their rout of the Indians and Homewood's 28-14 loss to Vestavia Hills.
This marks the first time Russellville has been No. 1 since the final week of the 2002 regular season, when a 69-7 shellacking of Coffee elevated the Golden Tigers to the top spot.
Russellville finished 14-1 that season, falling 31-28 to No. 5 Homewood in the state championship game.

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