Golden Tigers seeking first state title in 40 years against Vigor tonight
The Russellville football program is in a familiar spot even though it is a new experience for all of the players.
The Golden Tigers are playing in the state championship game at 7 p.m. tonight at Legion Field in Birmingham.
The program has participated in state title game eight times since the playoffs began in 1967, but this is Russellville's first trip to Birmingham since the end of the 2004 season.
"I told them they just need to enjoy it," said Russellville coach Doug Goodwin who is making his fourth trip – and first with the Golden Tigers – to the state title game. "They need to realize that even though it is a state championship game, it is still just a game. They don't need to change what they do to prepare."
After winning the first two state championship games it played in – a 13-6 victory against Colbert County in 1967 and a 51-13 win against Saks in 1968 – Russellville has failed to win in a title.
Other trips to the title game have resulted in a 21-20 loss to Greenville in 1987, a 29-15 loss to Blount in 1992, a 31-28 loss to Homewood in 2002, a 31-7 loss to Briarwood Christian in 2003 and a 35-21 loss to Homewood in 2004.
Standing between the Golden Tigers and their first state championship in 40 years is Vigor.
The Wolves are undefeated and have outscored all 14 opponents 528-257.
That translates to 37.7 points per game for Vigor and 18.4 points per game for Vigor's opponents.
The key to the Vigor offensive attack is its big offensive line.
"They are real big," Goodwin said. "They average about 300 pounds up front."
Vigor uses that size to open up holes for a pair of running back that have piled up yards during the season.
Tailback Ken Houston eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark last week during the Wolves' 45-41 victory against Carver-Montgomery in the semifinals.
Another threat in the backfield is fullback Jalston Fowler who has gained 1,019 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 84 carries this season. He is also a threat in the passing game, pulling down 14 receiving touchdowns.
Vigor likes to wear opponents down with the running game and, as the other team's defense focuses on stopping the run, uses a powerful passing attack to put the game away.
Quarterback Keith Ray has thrown for 34 touchdown passes this season. His favorite target is 6-foot-3-inch wide out Marvin Shinn, who has caught 17 touchdown passes.
"He is very fast and very athletic," said Josh Bean, the prep sports writer for the Mobile Press-Register. "He feasts on single coverage."
Goodwin said the Wolves' defense also presents a challenge for the Golden Tigers. Vigor's defensive front also has some big players, but nose guard Jamal Kidd is the biggest challenge as he can be the most disruptive force on the defensive line.
"We are going to have to stay on our blocks to give ourselves a chance to run and throw," Goodwin said. "(Our players) know they have to play physically, be aggressive and have good execution."
The Golden Tigers will also be facing injuries to two of their key offensive players.
Quarterback Joey Howe hurt his ankle two weeks ago during the Hartselle game and running back Brent Calloway suffered a led injury during the second half of last week's win against Cullman.
"(Howe) seems to be doing fine. He played last week with no problems and should be as good as last week, maybe better," Goodwin said. "(Calloway) has practiced everyday this week and hasn't missed any work."