Shauwn Phillips and North Sand Mountain travel to Cedar Bluff for a non-region contest Friday night.

The North Sand Mountain football program is in uncharted territory as of late.

Another close setback, this time a 14-6 loss to Class 2A Region 7-leading Tanner, pushed region champion NSM (1-3) to its worst start since the 2014 campaign.

Now the Bison step out of region play this week against Cedar Bluff looking to right the ship and kick start a second-half push to try to extend the program’s six-year playoff appearance streak.

“We’ve got to get on track,” said NSM head coach Keith Kirby. “We’ve got to fix these mistakes we’ve been making and fix them now. Something’s got to give if we’re going to get to where we want.”

NSM travels to play Cedar Bluff at L.D. Bruce Field Friday at 7 p.m. 

It’s the fifth straight season the teams have faced off. NSM, which won last season’s matchup 28-7, leads the series 5-3 and has won the last four meetings. Cedar Bluff’s last win in the sparsely played series came in 1993.

Cedar Bluff is under the direction of new head coach Alan Beckett, a former Collinsville and Winterboro head coach who was the offensive coordinator at Gadsden City last season. Beckett replaced Jonathan McWhorter, the program’s all-time winningest head coach (121-58) who moved into administration at the school after 15 seasons as the Tigers’ head coach.

Cedar Bluff (2-2) opened the season with a 40-0 loss to Cherokee County rival and 2A No. 3-ranked Spring Garden, followed by two Class 1A Region 7 wins over Valley Head 33-26 and Sumiton Christian 21-14 before falling 49-0 at Trion (Georgia) last week.

Key players for the Tigers are senior quarterback Jacob Burleson, junior wide receiver Bucky Leek and senior running back Preston Burt. Leek and Burt had 157 yards and 156 yards respectively on 26 and 33 carries through the Tigers’ first three games while Leek has one touchdown and Burt has three scores. Burleson has run for 81 yards on 39 carries with a touchdown while completing 20-of-38 passes for 241 yards and a touchdown. Leek had 10 catches for 136 yards and a touchdown.

“They want to establish the run, run a lot of power leads with the quarterback, but they can throw it around too. (Leek) and (Burt) get a lot of touches,” Kirby said. 

Kirby said the most important thing the Bison must do is to stop “shooting ourselves in the foot” with turnovers and penalties.

“We’re averaging three or four turnovers a game, and you’re not going to win much at that rate,” he said. “We’ve got to cut out the penalties. We’ve got to put it all together. We’ve had two really good defensive games and couldn’t score (offensively) and had a game where we were good on offense and not on defense. We’ve got to play well in all three phases of the game.”

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