By Jonathan Deal
Tanner (12-0) hits the road this week for a semifinal game against Reeltown (12-1). And a long road it will be. Reeltown, placed in the “north” bracket by the AHSAA, is approximately 200 miles south of Tanner.
The Rebels finished first in Class 2A Region 5 this season with a 7-0 record in region play. That perfect region record did not come easy, however. Reeltown’s schedule was much like Tanner’s in that it played its toughest games in early September.
After a 26-12 to 4A no. 6 Dadeville, Reeltown beat the other top two teams from Region 5 by a combined four points. From that point, the Rebels have cruised, winning by an average margin of 32-13 entering tonight’s game.
Like Tanner, Reeltown’s toughest game during the playoffs came in the third round last week. The Rebels beat Woodland at Nix-Webster-Oneal Stadium 30-24 on a late interception by Edward Carreker.
Reeltown ran for 338 yards in that game, including 248 rushing yards from Tywone Stewart. For the season, Stewart has 192 carries for 1,726 yards and 29 total touchdowns.
The senior running back will be featured, along with his younger brother, Ariko Stewart, in Reeltown’s wishbone attack. The younger Stewart is also a 1,000-yard rusher, accounting for 14 touchdowns.
Reeltown coach Jackie Oneal is no stranger to the playoffs. This will be Oneal’s 69th playoff game in his 25th year as head coach of the Rebels. During that span, Oneal has won two state titles and won 14 region titles.
Oneal and the Rebels will be going for their third 2A state championship appearance in four years.
Tanner enters tonight’s game with plenty of confidence on the heels of its third consecutive shut-out in the 2A playoffs. Led by the rushing tandem of Hayden Stephens and Fred Rich, Tanner is averaging 47.5 points per game this season.
The shifty Stephens leads the team with 176 carries for 1,604 yards and 28 touchdowns. The much bigger Rich (6’3, 195) has 1,160 yards on 120 carries with 17 touchdowns.
Not to be overlooked is fullback Kyle Shoulders (6’0, 230) , who has scored on long touchdowns in Tanner’s past two games. When Tanner does pass the ball, the Rattlers are efficient. Sophomore quarterback Jonathan Fletcher has completed 53 of 80 pass attempts (66%) for 946 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Rattlers leading receiver, Greg Maclin, has been on the other end of eight of the touchdown passes. The UAB commitment is averaging 21 yards per reception this season.
Rich, also a UAB commitment, is the team’s leading tackler on defense. The linebacker has a team-best 65 tackles.
Series history: 1-1
Last meeting: Tanner won 37-14 last year in the second round
News Courier Prediction: Tanner 21, Reeltown 13