Devils don’t mind being underdogs
It could be the classic David vs. Goliath match-up.
David: Verbena and its 5-foot-6, 130-pound lineman Justin Simmons. Goliath: Class 1A No. 3 Loachapoka, who will line up players as heavy as 345 pounds across the line of scrimmage from Simmons.
Isabella (1-2) overall, 0-2 region) at American Christian (2-1, 2-0)
– American Christian this season might be a shell of its former self, but, after last week’s loss to Vincent, Isabella seems to have slipped some, too. Pick: American Christian.
Billingsley (2-1, 2-1) at Autaugaville (1-2, 1-2)
– After a disappointing loss to Maplesville to start the season, the Bears have outscored their opponents 83-18. Pick: Billingsley.
Thorsby (0-3, 0-2) at Fultondale (2-1, 1-1)
– The Rebels are much improved this season, but one wouldn’t know it by their record. There will be somewhat of a break after this game, though, the last of three consecutive opponents that made the playoffs last year Pick: Fultondale.
Chilton Co. (1-2, 0-2) at Gardendale (0-3, 0-3)
– Don’t let Gardendale’s record fool you. The losses came to Class 6A competition—Hoover, Vestavia Hills and Oak Mountain. Pick: Gardendale.
Livingston (1-2, 0-2) at Jemison (1-2, 1-1)
– The Panthers, who won this match-up last season by a 52-22 score, should have a happy homecoming. Pick: Jemison.
John Essex (0-3, 0-2) at No. 4 Maplesville (3-0, 2-0)
– The combined score of Maplesville’s first three wins has been 123-12. Expect it to get worse before it gets better. Pick: Maplesville.
Picks record: 20-2
But Simmons plays and thinks much bigger than his frame, will have help in the trench warfare and is part of a team with some momentum—all of which has the Red Devils (2-1 overall, 1-1 Region 4) believing they can slay the giant.
“He has a lot of heart; he just wants to play,” Verbena coach Mike Harris said about Simmons, a junior. “He said, ‘Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it.’”
Simmons, who stepped into a starting role for injured senior Johnta Gaston, has played and played well. In a 3-0 loss to Wadley in Week 2, Simmons tallied 10 tackles from his defensive tackle position. He also plays left guard.
Last season, Simmons was a receiver and corner (“He gained three, and we moved him to the line,” Harris joked). Simmons said he prefers his new positions.
“You get to hit someone every play,” he said.
This week, Harris will want Simmons to at least hold his own against the massive Indians (3-0, 2-0), who have outscored their opponents this season 139-14.
The key, Harris said, will be stopping dual-threat quarterback Pat Moore.
“They spread you out then run him,” Harris said.
The Devils have some size of their own, though. Simmons will line up next to fellow defensive linemen Marshall McGaskin (6’3,” 225) and Jason Ray (6’2,” 274).
To begin last week’s game against Notasulga, Verbena played what Harris called one of the worst halves any of his teams have played in his seven seasons at the school—then turned around and played one of the best halves. The game was tied 8-8 at halftime, but Verbena won, 36-8.
“The only adjustment we made was attitudes,” Harris said and added that the momentum carried over into practice this week.
The Devils will need everything possible going their way if they are to pull off the upset.