A.L. Johnson looking to put problems in past as playoffs open

The last time A.L. Johnson played Fruitdale, the teams were in the same region and the Eagles walked away with a 24-16 win. That was last year. This year, A.L. Johnson has limped its way down the stretch, giving up 40 points or more in each of its last four game while losing all of them after a 5-1 start.

“I think we have to get back to team ball. I think after we started having success, guys got too caught up in individual accomplishments and lost the team concept,” A.L. Johnson coach Johnny Ford said. “Once that happens, it starts pulling the team apart. I’ve been talking to them about playing as a team and not worrying about individual stats and just letting the game take care of itself.”

As the AHSAA Class 1A state playoffs open Friday night, ALJ finds itself pitted against a Fruitdale squad that holds the No. 1 seed out of Region 1. Trending in the opposite direction, the Pirates have won seven straight and displayed a knack for winning close games. Over a four game stretch, the Pirates picked up wins by one point, three points, three points and six points en route to a rare region crown.

While the Pirates’ fortunes are much different this season than they were in 2013, the look of the offense under Jacob Webb is also drastically different.

“They’re a much different team than when we played them last year in the regular season when they were in our region,” Ford said. “They’re more of an (I Formation offense). They’ve got a pretty big fullback they like to get in the (I Formation) and run behind. We have to make sure we get back to where we started the season from.”

In addition to 6-0, 225-pound senior fullback Jared Moss, the Pirates dot their downhill attack with senior tailback Kareem Aadil-Moody.

“They’ve got a huge offensive line. They’ve got a little scat back about 5-5, probably about 140 pounds but he runs real hard and runs down hill,” Ford said. “He seems to be real fast on film. They get after it pretty good.”

Still, as much as Fruitdale has had a dream season, Ford knows his team’s focus needs to be as much on remedying its own issues as it is on countering the Pirates’ attack.

“The last two games, we’ve went into the third quarter with the lead. I don’t know if it’s frustration or what. They get too caught up in worrying about this or that and stop worrying about playing ball. Our focus this week is more about getting back to ourselves and the basics and treating it like it’s a new season,” Ford said. “The most talented team doesn’t always win. It comes down to discipline, heart and dedication. We’ve definitely got to make sure we go out and do what we’re supposed to do Friday night.”

A.L. Johnson and Fruitdale are set to kick off at 7 p.m. Friday night in Fruitdale.

The winner of that contest will move on to face the winner of Notasulga and Georgiana.