TANNER — Kyle Shoulders said the topic is rarely broached.
Sure, expectations for Tanner High’s football program are high.
Contending for a state title has been the goal since early in the offseason.
But a discussion about the team’s lofty goals?
“That’s not something we spend a lot of time talking about,” said Shoulders, a star defensive end for the Rattlers. “The only thing we’re focused on is this week’s game. That’s the way it always is.”
Obviously, the hype around Tanner’s perfect season hasn’t tainted the Rattlers’ locker room. Even with the community excitement generated by another deep postseason run, the players are maintaining a business-as-usual approach.
Not surprising. At Tanner, football excellence is now the standard.
“It’s like we always tell the kids, when you get in the end zone, so to speak, act like you’ve been there before,” Tanner co-defensive coordinator Thomas Harris said. “Our guys get that. This is a focused, determined group. They approach every week like it’s a job.”
A job that’s nearly complete.
Top-ranked Tanner (12-0) is one step away from making a second straight appearance in the Class 2A state title game. The only obstacle remaining is a semifinal matchup tonight at No. 3
Reeltown (12-1). Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“They’re a physical football team,” Tanner coach Laron White said.
“They’re going to line up and run the football right at you.”
White is correct. Reeltown relies heavily on its running game, and the vaunted rushing attack hasn’t let the Rebels down.
In fact, brothers Tywone Stewart and Ariko Stewart may be the best running back tandem Tanner has faced this season.
Tywone Stewart leads Reeltown with 1,726 yards and 29 touchdowns, while Ariko — a physical fullback — has rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns. Tywone ran for 248 yards and four touchdowns last week in a 30-24 quarterfinal win against Woodland.
“They’re two brothers who kind of feed off each other,” Reeltown coach Jackie O’Neal told The Auburn-Opelika News. Now in his 25th season, O’Neal has amassed a 221-95 record while leading the Rebels to three state titles (1987, 2001 and 2009).
“They really want to see each other do well. Both of them are excited about what happens with the other one. In our offense, if you have two running backs who care about each other and block for each other, that offense has an excellent chance to be successful.”
Tanner linebacker Dexter Douglas said the Rattlers are excited about the challenge.
“These are the kind of games you love to play in,” he said. “It’s going to be physical with a lot of hard hits, but the mentality our defense has, that’s the way we like to play.”
Tanner’s fast, talent-rich defense has not budged in the postseason.
The Rattlers have yet to give up a point in three playoff games.
Last week’s performance at Fultondale is arguably Tanner’s most impressive performance during this shutout streak. The Rattlers held Alabama commitment ArDarius Stewart to 118 yards on the ground, limiting the talented quarterback to no big plays.
“But this is a completely different type of team,” Douglas said.
“Fultondale was all about the big play, where Reeltown is more of a power football team. We’ve just got to go out there and make plays like we’ve done all season.”
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