Sprayberry and Pope, meeting for the 17th time since 1988, are both entering a four-game stretch that will determine the fates of their respective seasons, and they know there’s hardly any room for error. The teams will be facing each other tonight at the Pope Multi-Sport Complex tonight in the second game of subregion play in Region 7AAAAA (B).
Pope (4-2, 1-0) is coming off its bye week after shutting out Osborne 21-0 two weeks ago. Sprayberry (2-4, 1-0) delivered an impressive 24-21 win over Riverwood last Friday.
And while Pope may have the better overall record, these two teams will play each other tonight knowing their overall records don’t matter as much when it comes down to who advances into the state playoffs.
“The goals we set out at the beginning of the year are still attainable — minus being undefeated,” Sprayberry coach Billy Shackelford said. “One of our goals is to be undefeated in this subregion. Beating Riverwood allowed us to keep working toward those goals. The next (goal) is to beat Pope. Every game is extremely important.
“This will be a battle of two teams who are getting better every week.”
Sprayberry’s defense forced three turnovers against Riverwood — a team that was 5-0 before losses to the Yellow Jackets and Kell — and scored its first two touchdowns of the game on fumble returns by Sawyer Pate and Tevin Moore. The Yellow Jackets also kept Riverwood from scoring from the Sprayberry 12-yard line in the last minute of the fourth quarter, with the Raiders missing a game-tying field goal.
Following a 0-2 start, Pope has established its running game and has won four straight going into tonight’s game.
Greyhounds coach Matt Kemper has always preached to players about moving the chains and chewing up the clock in order to tire opposing defenses and keep the other team’s offense on the sidelines for as long as possible.
It seems as if that plan is working.
After picking up its first win in overtime against Etowah, Pope won its next three games over Northview, Cambridge and Osborne by an average of 27 points.
The Greyhounds have benefited from a big offensive line and a potent running game anchored by Ronald Woods and Itabari Mason.
Woods has run for 498 yards and six touchdowns on the season — most of which came in the last four games — and Mason has 326 yards and four scores. Brooks Climmons was Pope’s primary running back during the first two games of the season before shifting his full-time duties to the linebacker position.
“(Sprayberry is) well-coached, and they make plays,” Kemper said. “Their defense played out of the gate last week, and they were incredible. The first 14 points of the game were off turnovers.”
Linebacker Derrick Johnson, who leads Sprayberry with 63 tackles, will help shut down Pope’s running game, as will defensive lineman Malik Young, who already has three sacks on the season.