Red Devils brace for epic battle at Linden

Published 10:53 pm Thursday, October 1, 2009

For a regular season football game, Maplesville-Linden couldn’t get much bigger.

There’s the obvious—the visiting Red Devils and the host Patriots are ranked No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in Class 1A. And, with both team unbeaten through half the season, the meeting appears like a de facto Region 3 championship game.

Billingsley (2-3, 2-3 region) at Akron (0-5, 0-5)

– Akron is winless so far this season, and Billingsley still has its sights set on a playoff berth. It should be obvious which team has more to play for. Pick: Billingsley.

Jemison (2-3, 2-1) at Dallas Co. (2-3, 2-2)

– Dallas County High has won two consecutive games, but a more telling trend focuses on Jemison. The Panthers have lost three times this season and rebounded for a win the next week. And JHS is coming off a loss Pick: Jemison.

Verbena (3-2, 1-2) at Fayetteville (1-4, 1-2)

– Verbena has a trend going that is the opposite of Jemison’s. The Red Devils have won three games this season and followed each one up with a loss. But this trend will be broken Pick: Verbena.

No. 1 Pickens Co. (5-0, 3-0) at Isabella (1-4, 0-3)

– After four consecutive losses is not the time Isabella needs the state’s No. 1 Class 2A team to roll into town. Pick: Pickens Co.

Chilton Co. (2-3, 0-2) at Monroe Co. (1-4, 1-2)

– Last week’s dramatic win over Tallassee was just what Chilton County High needed heading into a stretch of four consecutive region games. This one should give the Tigers even more momentum. Pick: Chilton Co.

Vincent (4-1, 2-1) at Thorsby (3-0, 2-0)

– Expect the Rebels this season to earn their first win since 2007, but it won’t come this week against a solid Vincent squad. Pick: Vincent.

Picks record: 29-6

But the result could be even more important for Maplesville, a program wanting to prove it is again ready to compete for state championships after a rebuilding year in 2008.

Not that the Devils are focused on the intangible.

“We’re excited—heck, it’s another game,” Maplesville coach Brent Hubbert said. “This bunch here, they just like to play.”

Linden won last year’s meeting, 34-0, at Maplesville. That was just one year removed from a 34-14 Maplesville win at Linden in the third year of the playoffs.

Maplesville was an established powerhouse in 2007, having made the semifinal round of the playoffs in ‘06, while first-year Linden coach Andro Williams—a former assistant at three-time defending state champion Sweet Water—was building the program.

After losing four games in 2008, their most since 2004, the Red Devils (5-0, 4-0 Region) will find out Friday if they’re back in elite territory.

The answer will come in the sixth week of the season because Maplesville has not been challenged yet, outscoring opponents 224-26, or about 45-5 a game. Because every game has been a blowout, Hubbert has regularly allowed his starters to play only for a half.

So, questions remain about Maplesville’s conditioning in the fourth quarter and how it will respond in a close game—or having to play from behind.

“We feel like putting [non-region opponent] R.A. Hubbard on the schedule, playing Sweet Water and Brantley in the jamboree—we hope those type things have prepared us for this game.”

What Hubbert hopes his Devils are prepared for is a Linden squad that has been as impressive as Maplesville, outscoring foes 242-13, or about 48-3 each game.

The Patriots offense is powerful, with fullback Kendarious Fritts averaging 190 yards and more than three touchdowns a game on an average of only 16 carries per contest. But the defense, which includes Auburn commitment Justin Delaine at defensive end, might be better.

“Our kids know how important each week is,” Hubbert said. “They know the difference between a team like Linden and a team that’s just going to roll over for you.”

Pick: Linden