Sweet Water to host Choctaw skeleton crew Friday

Sweet Water head coach Stacy Luker has some familiarity with Jamarcus Ezell and Jayjerein Craig. He saw the freshman tandem as middle school athletes last year when they played for Demopolis. Friday night, Ezell and Craig will be prominent parts of the game plan for the Choctaw County Tigers, which saw the Alabama High School Athletic Association suspend 20 of its players for two games each following an on-field altercation that abbreviated the team’s game against Leroy last week.

The suspensions leave 2-5 Choctaw County with just 14 players as they head to face a Sweet Water team that is tied atop Class 2A, Region 1.

The suspensions also leave Sweet Water preparing for a team that will look drastically different from the one that posted reasonably competitive scores against Mobile Christian and Millry and managed to knock off Red Level and Leroy.

“You just keep preparing for what you’ve seen on film,” Luker said. “The quarterback (Ezell) is playing. He’s obviously a good player. I’ve seen him and the Craig kid. They’re both good players.”

The game comes a week after Sweet Water seized control of its region fate with a 20-6 win over Washington County, a contest that saw the Bulldogs employ multiple drives of double digit plays on the way to draining the second half clock.

“We were just able to control the line of scrimmage on both sides. I thought, defensively, we played real well,” Luker said. “We had three scoring drives that ate up clock and kept their athletes off the field. We had a 14, a 12 and a 21-play drive. We were able to eat minutes off the clock, which was important against a team like that.”

The 20-6 victory over Washington County made the third time in four weeks the Bulldogs have won a game by 14 points or less, the others coming in a six-point win over Southern Choctaw and a three-point victory over Maplesville.

Luker pointed to Sweet Water’s late-game drives in those contest as evidence that his team has matured considerably over the course of the season.

“There is no doubt. We’ve had to. Not only growing up, I think we’re becoming mentally tough because of what we’ve faced and what we’ve done,” Luker said. “In three really tight football games, we’ve held the ball extensively in the fourth quarter with our offense. I think it has made us probably mentally tougher more than anything else.”

While the Bulldogs have matured considerably over the course of the season, the jump to Class 2A this season has also provided the team’s coaching staff ample opportunity to assess its identity and limitations.

“I think we probably know more of what we’ve got at this point and time than we have in other seasons. Because we had played seven, eight and nine football games and not really known how good we were,” Luker said. “We’re not anywhere close to where we want to be. But we need to keep working and get there.”

Friday’s contest marks the first time Sweet Water and Choctaw County have met since 1988. The game is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. at Nolan Atkins Stadium.