By Jonathan Deal
The second round of the playoffs begin tonight and as Tanner head coach Laron White said last week, “it gets tougher every week.” The competition will be tougher this week as the Rattlers entertain Walter Wellborn.
The Panthers should give Tanner (10-0) a tougher test than its first-round opponent, Sand Rock, which Tanner beat 55-0. Sitting just outside the ASWA top 10 in Class 2A, Wellborn finished second in Region 6.
Wellborn (9-2) narrowly missed out on a region title, losing to Woodland on a head-to-head tiebreaker. The 55-42 loss to Woodland was one of two losses this season. The other was a 33-19 non-region loss to No. 2 Fyffe.
The Panthers enter tonight’s game with the ability to score points, averaging more than 44 points per game this season. Running the Wing-T offense, Wellborn has two running backs with more than 1,000 rushing yards.
Chantz Goodman (165 carries, 1,427 yards, 20 TDs) and Kevin Mixon (129 carries, 1,183 yards, 17 TDs) will carry the load for the Panthers, but look out for fullback Landon Machristie who ran for 227 yards last week in Wellborn’s 54-26 win over Horseshoe Bend. Wellborn quarterback Judd Smith has thrown the ball 45 times all season, but averages nearly 22 yards per reception on 23 completions.
Despite the danger that Wellborn’s offense poses, Tanner will feel confident with one of the top-10 scoring defenses in the state. The Rattlers are allowing just over a touchdown per game this season while averaging more than 50 points per game on offense. Tanner’s 50.3 points per game is second best in the state this season along with a six-touchdown averaging win margin, which is also second best in the state.
No matter how gaudy and one-sided the numbers are for Tanner, it won’t matter if the Rattlers don’t play for four quarters against Wellborn. Tanner has never trailed this season and has not been in a one-possession game in the fourth quarter since a 13-7 win over Madison Academy on Aug. 30.
With Wellborn looking to tire Tanner’s defense, look for running back Hayden Stephens to carry more of the load for the Rattlers. The junior speedster scored four touchdowns last week and will only benefit from more carries.
Series history: these teams have never met
News Courier Prediction: Tanner 41, Walter Wellborn 20