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Etowah travels to Southside for region tilt


Etowah quarterback Dalton Wadley and the Blue Devils play Southside tonight. (Photo by Dave Hyatt | Gadsden Times | File )


 

It’s the oldest cliché in the book, but for Sam McCorkle and the Etowah Blue Devils, it’s never been truer.

“We’re trying to take it one game at a time,” said McCorkle, whose team is on the cusp of a region title. “The only game on our schedule right now is Southside.”

Etowah travels tonight to Barney Hood Stadium in Southside to play the Panthers in an all-important Class 5A, Region 7 game.

Etowah (5-2, 4-1) currently is tied with Fort Payne atop the region standings but holds the tiebreaker over the Wildcats. As long as the Blue Devils beat Southside tonight and Boaz next week, they will win their first region championship since 2005.

Despite its explosive offense, Etowah has shown vulnerability throughout the season. After big wins against Fort Payne and Albertville, the Blue Devils lost the following weeks to less formidable opponents.

“It seems like sometimes we’ve had a little trouble focusing,” McCorkle said. “We’ve won two big games and both times we won those big games we got beat. Hopefully we’ve learned the lesson that we better go one game at a time.”

Southside (2-5, 1-4) cannot make the playoffs, and coach Marty Smith knows his Panthers are in for a big challenge tonight if they want to play the spoiler role.

“They are very talented and have wonderful skill position (players),” Smith said. “The reason they’ve lost the ball games that they lost is they turned the ball over and have committed penalties. We just have to hope they are very kind to us and turn the ball over to us, and we’ve got to do a good job of protecting the football.”

Etowah will bring in a versatile offense and playmakers at several positions, including quarterback Dalton Wadley, running back Devin Horton and wide receiver Darrin Peterson. The multiple ways McCorkle uses his talent is virtually impossible to prepare for.

“We counted 30 different formations,” Smith said of when he and his coaches were breaking down film on the Blue Devils. “The thing about it is, Sam and his staff do a good job of putting his players in positions to make plays and to use the talent that each individual has. As a coach, you’ve got to look at what they’re trying to do with each kid to put them in a position to be successful and then you have to scheme for them in that way. If you try to scheme for all 30 formations, your kids are going to get overloaded.”

No amount of scheming by any team is likely to slow down Peterson.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior is having an all-state type season thus far with 42 catches for 932 yards and six touchdowns receiving. He also has a rushing touchdown and two kickoff returns for scores. With good hands and 4.4 40-yard dash speed, he is getting a lot of attention from schools on the next level.

“He’s the best wide receiver I’ve ever had,” McCorkle said. That’s saying a lot, as McCorkle has been in coaching for more than 30 years.

Smith sees the speed, the leaping ability and everything else that a solid athlete like Peterson presents, but there is another aspect about him that stands out.

“One of things that impresses me, he does not get frustrated when the ball doesn’t come his way,” Smith said. “He is willing to play the role that they have asked him to play and when it’s time for him to step up and make plays, that’s when he steps up and makes plays.”

As for Southside, McCorkle has seen a lot of improvement in the Panthers throughout the season. While preparing for Albertville earlier this season, he reviewed tape of the Aggies’ game against the Panthers. In his team’s preparations this week, the Southside team on the tape now looks much different.

Southside quarterback Patrick Lister has improved throughout the season, and running backs Blake Devine and Dantley Coker are capable playmakers in the backfield.

“I think they can present a lot of problems,” McCorkle said. “They’re a much-improved team from what they were. They look to me like they are playing with more confidence, and we know that if we don’t play our very best, we’ll go over there and get knocked off.

“The thing that coach Smith is doing is keeping his guys playing hard.”

Effort isn’t an issue for the Panthers, as Smith sees it.

“The thing is and what’s so special, we’ve probably had one of the best weeks of practice that we’ve had all year,” Smith said. “These kids are working hard. ... It will be a good ball game (tonight).”