ALJ eyes playoff run, starts at Autaugaville

Marengo High School's Cordarius Pritchett (10) chases A.L. Johnson's Lawrence Burrell (5) toward the Eagles sideline.

Marengo High School’s Cordarius Pritchett (10) chases A.L. Johnson’s Lawrence Burrell (5) toward the Eagles sideline.

THOMASTON — A.L. Johnson (8-2) is set to travel to Autaugaville (7-3) for the first round of the Class 1A state playoffs Friday night. In a clash of Eagles, ALJ head coach Mose Jones has spent the week readying his squad for a pass-heavy Autaugaville attack.

“It’s going to be a real good test for us. We’re extremely athletic in our secondary. We’ve got basketball players in our secondary. Most of their kids are 5-11, 6-1, 6-2. Most of my secondary people are 5-11, 6-1, 6-2,” Jones said of the matchup of his defensive backfield against Autaugaville’s skill players. “We kind of play an unusual type of defense than any other team. Most people play a team like that and they’ll go two deep safeties. We don’t run any safeties. I just lock up all year long man to man and bring a lot of pressure on a passing team. We aren’t going to do anything any different. We’re going to lock up on them man to man and bring a lot of pressure up front.”

For A.L. Johnson, that pressure will come from a smaller, quicker front seven that has proven capable of dialing up the pressure on the quarterback without the aid of a blitz for most of the season.

“Most of my tackles and defensive ends are linebacker, secondary, running back type players. Those ends are coming off. One of them runs a 4.4 and the other one runs like a 4.5 or 4.6,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of speed coming off the edges. We’re going to put a lot of pressure on them.”

Johnson will counter the Autaugaville attack with a balanced approach of its own that will allow it to intermittently run clock with a ball control offense or air it out as needed.

A. L. Johnson's Zynell McGhee surveys the field as Marengo High's Phillip Treadwell (55) pursues.

A. L. Johnson’s Zynell McGhee surveys the field as Marengo High’s Phillip Treadwell (55) pursues.

As his team readies for its playoff opener, Jones looked to assistant coach Johnny Ford as being a significant difference maker for his team this season, crediting the first-year coach with being a key piece to the ALJ puzzle.

“We hired a guy from Holy Spirit that worked at Linden and I kind of told people early that he might be the missing piece. We hired Johnny Ford and he put us in position where we could do more in defensive and offensive groups,” Jones said of Ford. “And he coaches quarterbacks for us, so he has made a real difference there. All of our assistant coaches have really made a big difference. But I really think the missing piece from this past year was Coach Ford.”

A.L. Johnson enters the playoffs as the No. 3 seed from Region 1 while Autaugaville is the No. 2 seed out of Region 3.

“It’s just a blessing to be here because (at A.L. Johnson), there’s not a lot of boys. There are 41 boys here in grades nine through 12 and one of them is in a wheelchair,” Jones said. “It all boils down to a one-game season, move on or pack it up. I really think we’re in a position where we can make a run. I don’t know how other people feel. We’ve gone to the playoffs before but we’ve always been around that four spot getting the No. 1 seed.”