The 2019 North Sand Mountain football team has the opportunity to go where no NSM team has gone before.
The Bison host Westbrook Christian in a Class 2A second-round playoff game Friday night at Lloyd Dobbins Field in Higdon. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
If NSM (8-3) wins, it would advance to the state quarterfinals for the first time in school history.
“It’s a chance to make some history,” said NSM head coach Keith Kirby “It’s hard to get to the third round. Hopefully we can make the most of the opportunity.”
This is the fourth second-round playoff appearance in school history for NSM. It’s three previous appearances were in 1998, 2013 and 2015, losses to Springville, Tanner and Madison Academy respectively. Meanwhile, Westbrook Christian has not been to the quarterfinals since 1997 when future Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle led the Warriors to the Class 1A state championship game.
The NSM-Westbrook Christian winner plays either No. 2-ranked Ohatchee or No. 3 Collinsville in the Class 2A quarterfinals next week. If it advances, NSM would host Ohatchee but visit Collinsville.
The Bison and Warriors both defeated ranked opponents in Round 1 road games last week. NSM, the No. 3-seed from 2A Region 8, toppled No. 9 and Region 8 No. 2-seed Addison 20-13 while Region 6 No. 4-seed Westbrook Christian (8-3) upended No. 10 and Region 5 champion Aliceville 25-22.
For NSM, the win was its third straight and fifth in its last six games, the lone loss in that stretch coming against top-ranked Fyffe.
Kirby was pleased with NSM’s defensive effort against an Addison team that came in averaging more than 30 points per game.
“It’s been a rollarcoaster on defense at times, but we got one of our better performances last week,” Kirby said. “Offensively, I felt like we left points out there, so it was big that our defense stepped up like they did. Hopefully we’ll get another (performance) like that this week. Westbrook’s kind of a ball-control offense, well-coached, discipline, and we’ve got to reset the line of scrimmage and keep them from holding on to it.”
The Warriors work offensively out of the I-formation and the spread. Freshman running back Karmichael Cattling has rushed for 1,069 yards and four touchdowns on 167 carries while senior John Reese Bellew has 373 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 35 carries, eighth-grader Asher Keck has 296 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries and senior quarterback Will Noles has 286 yards and six touchdowns on 26 carries. Noles ran 12 times for 36 yards and two touchdowns by “running quarterback sneak about 10 times” against Aliceville. Cattling ran for 76 yards on 29 carries last week.
The Warriors primarily keep it on the ground, but Noles, the son of first-year Westbrook Christian head coach and former Boaz and Etowah head coach Drew Noles, is a capable passer having completed 54 of 87 passes for 923 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Defensively, linebackers Jai’Shawn Cattling (59 tackles) and Bryce Wood (52) are the Warriors’ leading tacklers, and defensive end Derrick Graham has 48 tackles and 11 quarterback sacks while defensive tackle Carl Henry has 32 tackles and six sacks. Junior defensive back Carson Wiggins has 36 tackles and three interceptions.
“They’ve got a big defensive line that we can’t let reset the line of scrimmage,” Kirby said. “They’re pretty solid. We’ve got to make plays when we get the opportunity. Again, we left some points out there last week. We can’t do that this time.”
NSM quarterback Landon Green surpassed the 2,000-yard passing mark for the season during the Bison’s first-round win and has now completed 117 of 178 passes for 2,115 yards and 24 touchdowns. Lake Bell is the Bison’s leading receiver with 42 catches for 839 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Damon Gentle leas the NSM in rushing with 663 yards and eight touchdowns on 79 carries.
Kirby said Bison must bring their “best effort” because “we’ll get (Westbrook Christian’s) best. I think our guys will. These seniors aren’t ready for it to be over, (and) the other classes aren’t ready for it to be over. They want to keep it going.”