Sweet Water to tangle with Thomasville Friday

Sweet Water will head just across the county line Friday night for its familiar season-opening game against rival Thomasville.

“Same old Thomasville, just athletic, physical, very fast,” Sweet Water head coach Stacy Luker said of a Thomasville Tiger team that is rarely lacking in talent.

The Tigers lost a talented senior class following last season, including Division I signees Tyler Hayes (Alabama) and Jon Knight (Troy). Still, Luker expects Thomasville will have no shortage of weapons in its arsenal when it takes the field Friday night.

“They’ve lost some good players. The thing about Thomasville is they’re always going to have speed. They replaced those guys with some pretty good ones from what we can tell,” Luker said.

The Bulldogs head into the game looking to snap a three-game losing streak against Thomasville. Doing that will mean playing a disciplined brand of football.

“The obvious one is holding onto the football,” Luker said of the keys to competing with Thomasville.  “Getting off the field on third downs. We haven’t done that in the last two or three years against them. Somehow, winning some battles up front. We haven’t done that a lot, especially against their defensive guys. We need to win a few of those battles in this one.”

The Bulldogs showed very little of their passing game in the Jamboree contest against Demopolis last week, throwing the ball one time on a screen play to account for the only pass of the game. Still, Luker said he and his staff have plenty of confidence in fourth-year starting quarterback Brett Davis and his array of pass catchers.

“We think Brett is a capable passer. We decided not to (pass) last week,” Luker said. “We think Marquis Washington is a real good receiver and D.J. Hayes our tight end. And we’ve worked Demarcus Gamble a bit at tight end and we think he is going to be steady for us there. All our backs catch the ball well out of the backfield.”

While Sweet Water will let Davis throw the ball enough, the bulk of its offense will come in the form of a seemingly relentless ground attack that utilizes up to five different ball carriers.

“First and foremost, it’s to keep guys fresh because all of them but one play defense,” Luker said of the depth his team has at running back. “They each complement each other and I think they give a different look to the defense more than anything else. When you have that many guys, you can kind of lean on the guy who has the hot hand.”

Defensively, the challenge Sweet Water faces may be greater than in previous years given the unpredictability Luker expects the Jack Hankins led Tigers to employ in their offensive scheme.

“They can be so balanced, probably more this year than they’ve been in the past,” Luker said. “Last year they had two or three DI guys that they could put the ball in their hands and let them run. But this year I think they are going to be a more balanced football team because of (fourth year starting quarterback Tevin Waters.) They may end up being harder to defense this year than in the past. We’ve had some success stopping them in the past, but they may be a little more difficult this year.”

Sweet Water’s efforts to limit the Thomasville offense will be predicated upon a defense that is designed to be faster and more athletic than its predecessors.

“We felt like all along we needed to improve defensively from last year and be more athletic. We think we’re there,” Luker said. “We think we’re more athletic on that side of the ball. We think we’re going to be better.”

Athleticism alone will likely not be enough to topple Thomasville. The Bulldogs will need to show some depth to end the skid against their rivals. Luker is hopeful his squad has more of that than it has in the past.

“Our depth is probably where we’re going to be more suspect than anything else,” Luker said. “When we rotate guys on the defensive front, we’re borrowing offensive linemen to rotate with. We’ve got some depth there, but it won’t be fresh depth when it gets there.”

Sweet Water is scheduled for a 7 p.m. kickoff in Thomasville Friday night.