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Mustangs can’t afford 0-2 start in region

The Isabella offense under coach Lanny Jones has featured a simple but effective strategy: chew up yardage and time with a bruising running game and efficient short passing game.

Jemison (1-1) overall, 1-0 region) at Calera (2-0, 1-0)

– This match-up produced a 21-19 classic last season, and the two geographical rivals might produce another interesting game this time around Pick: Calera.

Chilton Co. (1-1, 0-1) at Carver-Montgomery (1-1, 0-1)

– CCHS gave up at least 50 points in back-to-back games to Demopolis and Carver last season. The Tigers held Demopolis last week to 21 points; can they keep improving? Pick: Carver.

Billingsley (1-1, 1-1) at John Essex (0-2, 0-1)

– John Essex has given up 35 points and 34 points in losses to A.L. Johnson and Holy Spirit to begin the season, so look for the Bears to make it two straight region wins. Pick: Billingsley.

Sunshine (0-2, 0-2) at Maplesville (2-0, 1-0)

– Billingsley defeated Sunshine 33-0. Maplesville defeated Billingsley 35-0. It adds up to trouble for the Tigers. Pick: Maplesville.

Pickens Co. (1-0) at Thorsby (1-0)

– Thorsby has played incredibly tough in two losses to begin the season, but grit won’t be enough to hang with the Tornados. Pick: Pickens Co.

Notasulga (0-2, 0-1) at Verbena (1-1, 0-1)

– Notasulga has been outscored 86-8 in its first two games. Just what the doctor ordered for a Red Devils team coming off a heartbreaking 3-0 loss to Wadley. Pick: Verbena.

But that plan was foiled in a 28-6 loss at Fultondale on Sept. 4 by 195 yards worth of penalties.

“We ask them to get 4, 5 yards a pop, but you can’t do that when it’s 1st-and-25,” Jones said.

Many of the flags were thrown on a rebuilt offensive line that will be counted on Friday as the Mustangs (1-1) try to avoid falling into an 0-2 hole in Class 2A, Region 4 play.

“If you don’t win this one, your back is totally against the wall,” Jones said.

The same can be said of Friday’s opponent, Vincent. The Yellowjackets (1-1) are also trying to avoid an 0-2 region mark, and last year’s 23-14 loss to Isabella was the difference between a playoff berth. Isabella wound up with a No. 3 seed.

Cutting back on penalties will be crucial for Isabella to still reach its goal of an area championship. Jones said his lineman strayed from their technique in trying to compensate for Fultondale’s size along the offensive and defensive fronts.

This week’s battles with Vincent could be more evenly matched, or, as Jones describes it, “10th graders on 10th graders.”

But even if the Mustangs can control the line of scrimmage, they’ll still have to worry about the explosive ability of Vincent’s backs and receivers.

Juwan Rogers averaged 132.8 rushing yards a game last season and is joined in the backfield by fellow returning starter Ben McKinney.

Vincent quarterback Michael Kelley, a sophomore replacing three-year starter Corey Deloach, will try to take advantage of his receivers’ height and athleticism.

“Instead of being able to focus on the run, now you have to defend that and the pass,” Jones said.

Pick: Isabella