It isn’t often that both the Scottsboro and North Jackson football teams enter their annual “Battle of the Valley” rivalry game on the heels of losses.
Both teams fell a week ago, Scottsboro losing 42-28 at Springville and North Jackson losing 36-32 to Class 4A No. 5-ranked Madison Academy.
As disappointing as those defeats were, both coaches don’t expect them to linger this week for such an important rivalry game.
“Can’t have a hangover or you’ll play bad in this one,” said North Jackson coach Chandler Tygard.
The 33rd Battle of the Valley kicks off Friday at 7 p.m. at R.D. Hicks Stadium in Stevenson. Because its scheduled home game Sept. 11 was forfeited by DAR for COVID-19 related reasons, Friday’s game with Scottsboro game is North Jackson’s official home opener for the 2020 season.
North Jackson leads the series 21-11, but Scottsboro has won five of the last seven meetings. The home team has won seven of the last eight meetings, the lone exception coming in 2016, when Scottsboro won for the first time at North Jackson.
“Doesn’t matter where it’s played,” said Scottsboro head coach Don Jacobs said. “Their field is the same as ours, 120 yards long, 53 yards wide. They’ll have 11 (players) on their side (of the football) just like we will. We need our 11 to go compete against their 11. We’re not competing against those folks in the stands, just those 11 on the field. If we’ll do that, we’ll have a chance.”
Scottsboro (1-3) nearly pulled off a road win at Springville last week, leading 21-20 midway through the fourth quarter before a few late turnovers helped the home team pull away.
Tygard said Scottsboro’s play on the field is what the Chiefs are focused on and not its record.
“(Scottsboro is) a lot better than their record,” Tygard said. “They’ve played some really good teams. You can throw the records out in this (game) anyway.”
Scottsboro is averaging 13.8 points per game, but it’s the Wildcats’ time of possession advantage — Scottsboro’s average is 28:22 to opponent’s 19:38 — is a stat has that caught Tygard’s eye.
“They want to control the ball the whole game on you,” Tygard said. “We’ve got to keep them behind the chains. We’ve got to get a negative play on them. We can’t just let them have four yards a pop and run a whole quarter out.”
Senior quarterback Justin Manning is the Wildcats’ top offensive weapon. He leads Scottsboro with 396 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 109 carries while completing 18-of-43 passes for 200 yards and three touchdowns, all of which came in last week’s game at Springville. JaVaris Branford has rushed for 141 yards on 26 carries while Gavin McCrary has rushed for 114 yards on 26 carries and Noah Linville had 82 yards on 12 carries. Kaylem Dupree is Scottsboro’s leading receiver with eight catches for 85 yards and one touchdown.
Meanwhile, North Jackson’s high-speed spread offense is led by junior quarterback Dalton Morris, who is 42-of-83 passing for 793 yards and nine touchdowns. Morris has also rushed for 145 yards and two scores on 25 carries. Johnny Gilliam leads North Jackson (3-1) in rushing with 287 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries while KJ Huckabee has 118 yards on 18 carries and Ayson Quinn has 70 yards on 10 carries. Nigel Lanier leads the Chiefs in receiving with nine catches for 308 yards and four touchdowns while Quinn has nine catches for 65 yards and Brady Cunningham (165 yards and one touchdown) and Gilliam (133 yards and two touchdowns) have eight catches each.
“They’re much improved,” Jacobs said. “They look like they’re playing at the rate of speed the coach wants. Offensively, they’re explosive running it and throwing it. We can’t give up big plays. That killed us the other night (against Springville).”
Defensive leaders for North Jackson are Luke Johnson (20 tackles, five tackles for loss) and Gilliam (17 tackles, four quarterback sacks).
“Defensively they’ve been getting after folks,” Jacobs said.
Scottsboro’s defensive leaders are Linville (28 tackles, one sack, forced fumble, one pass break-up) and Cade Holder (19 tackles, forced fumble).
““Defensively, (Scottsboro is) big and physical,” Tygard said. “Most teams we play we can formation them or trick them and get people wide open, but Scottsboro, with them, you have to beat them one-on-one. They’re going be where they’re supposed to be, going to do what they’re coached to do.”