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Run for it: Focus of CCHS offense turns toward ground

No. 4 Maplesville (4-0 overall, 3-0 region) at Autaugaville (2-2, 2-2)

– Autaugaville was a surprise (and controversial) winner over Billingsley last week and could provide Maplesville with its toughest test to date. The Eagles won’t come close to winning, though, and the Big Red Devil Machine will start looking toward next week’s momentous match-up with Class 1A No. 5 Linden Pick: Maplesville.

No. 5 Linden (4-0, 3-0) at Billingsley (2-2, 2-2)

– Billingsley was shocked by a last-second touchdown by Autaugaville last week, and one has to wonder about their mindset as the mighty Patriots come rolling into town. The outcome of this game should tell us much about Maplesville-Linden next week. Pick: Linden.

Jemison (2-2, 2-1) at Chelsea (1-3, 1-2)

– Chelsea comes into the game with an unimpressive record, but that was the case last year, too, when the Hornets gave Jemison its first loss of the season. Regardless of the outcome of this non-region game, the Panthers need to get their running game back on track after a sloppy showing in a win over Livingston. Pick: Chelsea.

Thorsby (0-4, 0-3) at Horsehoe Bend (2-2, 1-2)

– My head’s telling me no, but I’m going with my heart. Thorsby is going to win its first football game since Oct. 26, 2007. Coach Billy Jackson said he thought his team took a step back in a loss to Fultondale last week. The kind of team Thorsby is trying to become will be motivated to make up for it. Pick: Thorsby.

Verbena (2-2, 1-2) at Isabella (1-3, 0-3)

– Both of these teams desperately need a win, but, if one needs it more, it would be Isabella. The Mustangs have lost three consecutive games (all region contests), and it’s homecoming. Pick: Isabella.

Picks record: 26-3

Despite last season’s impressive numbers through the air, the idea for the Chilton County High offense is that the run sets up the pass.

The Tigers have run the ball effectively because of an improved line, a new back and wet weather.

If the passing game comes around to provide some balance Friday against Tallassee, CCHS could produce some momentum heading into a stretch of four consecutive Class 5A, Region 3 games beginning next week.

“We’re going into the playoff stretch, so you want to play well this week to have confidence going into next week,” CCHS coach Brian Carter said.

Building confidence against Tallassee (3-1 overall, 2-1 region) won’t be easy, but if the first four games of the season are any indication, Chilton should be able to run the football.

More of a passing team in 2008, the Tigers this season have depended on their shotgun option plays to produce yardage. Senior quarterback Taylor Hughes, in fact, has only four more yards passing (280) this season than he does rushing (276).

Hughes has to be a threat to run the ball for the option to work, but the danger in the backfield is diminutive junior J.J. Agee.

Agee leads the team in rushing with 292 yards on 57 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per carry and 73 yards per game, second among local leaders.

Agee is back after spending last season at school in North Carolina, but a less noticeable change from last season’s ground attack might be even more important: the offensive line is bigger, stronger and more experienced.

Several lineman have changed positions through the first four games, but the arrangement now seems to be Anthony Neece at left tackle, Brandon Baker at left guard, Alex Little at center, Delondre DeJarnett at right guard, Blake Norman at right guard and Jenson Gore in a utility role.

Only Little is a senior, so there is still time for improvement. But the line has showed its ability already by opening holes for Agee, Hughes and others no matter the defensive alignment they’re facing.

And CCHS has seen about every defense imaginable. Jemison ran a 4-3, Demopolis a 3-4, and Carver-Montgomery a 3-5, and Tallassee will utilize a 4-2 defense.

Combine that with the fact that the linemen are still learning the zone blocking schemes necessary for Carter’s offense.

“It takes a lot of work,” Carter said about teaching assignment for so many different looks. “Last year, it took us a long time just to get the concepts down.”

This season has provided plenty of practice. Because of wet fields, CCHS has relied heavily on the run in two games this season. Against Jemison, the Tigers ran the ball 40 times. Against Gardendale, that number was 51.

“We want to be able to run the ball, and, this year, we’ve been able to run it a little bit better,” Carter said.

Pick: Tallassee