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Red Devils face defending state champions in playoff semifinals

As the Maplesville football team continues its climb up the mountain to a state championship, the stakes also become higher.

Last week, the 13-0 Red Devils ended a four-game losing streak to Linden, defeating the Patriots 41-0.

There will be no rest for the Devils this week, as defending Class 1A state champ Brantley visits Maplesville’s George Walker Jr. Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday for a semifinal round match-up. The winner advances to the Super 6 state championship game at 3 p.m. Dec. 5 at the University of Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium.

“It’s like the saying, ‘To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,’” MHS coach Brent Hubbert said. “Brantley is the best.”

But the Bulldogs (11-2) haven’t been as dominant as they were during last year’s title run, when they shut out 10 of their 15 opponents and were held below 40 points just three times.

Brantley has lost twice this season, but both setbacks were to Class 2A teams, 33-19 to Luverne and 26-19 to Elba.

Still, the team’s greatest asset might be its familiarity with big games and confidence in finding a way to win.

“Some of these guys already have two state championships,” Hubbert said about Brantley’s 2012 football title plus one earned by a basketball team featuring many of the same faces. “They know what it takes. They’ve been there. That’s a challenge for us.”

The Bulldogs’ offense will rely on quarterback Wesley Person Jr.–son of former Auburn University and NBA star Wesley Person–and a pair of running backs, both of which rushed for more than 150 yards in last week’s 36-19 win at Loachapoka.

Brantley often lines up one of the backs in the backfield and splits the other out wide at receiver. Then, they’ll switch spots, keeping both of them fresh and the defense guessing.

The offensive game plan also takes advantage of the height of 6-foot-4 tight end/receiver Stefan King as he matches up against shorter defenders.

When Brantley is on defense, Maplesville will try to avoid B.J. Salter, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound inside linebacker that Hubbert calls one of the best the Devils have faced.

Maplesville owns a 4-0 record all-time against Brantley, with the most recent win, 25-14, coming in 2006. That game was in the third round of the state playoffs, and the teams have also met in the second round.

Maplesville prepared for this year’s game during a Thanksgiving week that can present distractions.

Students were out of school after Tuesday, and when combined with the holiday festivities, it’s easy for players to focus on things other than football.

That can’t be helped, Hubbert said, and coaches want the players to enjoy their Thanksgiving. The strategy was to offer a practice schedule as close to normal as possible, including workouts Wednesday afternoon and Thursday afternoon.

A community pep rally was scheduled to be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at the school.

On Friday, players are to arrive at the school about 11 a.m. for lunch. Then, a pre-game meal will be served at 3 p.m.

Players relax and have some free time before pre-game activities begin.

“We just try to let them be as close to their routine as possible,” Hubbert said, and the coach has some experience with the dilemma of preparing for a game during Thanksgiving week as the Devils have done so several times and as recently as last season.

Despite the obstacles, Hubbert said it shouldn’t be difficult for the players to focus on the task at hand.

“They understand what’s at stake,” he said. “We’re just excited to have another chance to be playing. We’re 48 minutes away from a goal (of a state championship) that has been set by a good group of kids.”