No matter how many times the “one game at a time” mantra was repeated, the thought remained for Muscle Shoals.
After each opponent the Class 5A No. 1 Trojans dismantled on the way to a 5-0 start this football season, they still knew plenty was left to prove with the defending state champion looming on the schedule.
That time comes Friday, when Muscle Shoals hosts No. 4 Hartselle (4-1, 3-0 Region 8) at J.F. Moore Stadium.
“We try to focus every week like it’s a big game, but Hartselle has always been in the back of our heads,” Trojans quarterback Ryan Ware said after last Friday’s win against Dora. Players are only available to the media for post-game interviews and not during the week at practice, according to a policy instituted by Muscle Shoals early this season.
“We can’t wait to play them,” Ware said of Hartselle. “Practice should be real fun this week. We’re going to be focused and physical. Hopefully we’ll come out and put a lot of points on them. We know the energy for the game is going to be huge. You can’t get any better than No. 1 vs. No. 2 at home. We’re going out to gain respect from Hartselle, just come out and give it all we’ve got.”
The 1-2 matchup never materialized, though, not after Hartselle’s upset loss, 21-14, to 6A Decatur last Friday, opening the door for Muscle Shoals’ rise to No. 1 in the ASWA poll for the third time in school history, the first time since 1989.
Hartselle’s loss is the latest in a string of close calls, coming on the heels of a 21-14 Week 4 win against 5A No. 10 Cullman and a 23-8 Week 3 win at Athens (1-4), in which the Tigers trailed 8-7 through three quarters.
Certainly, Hartselle coach Bob Godsey, regarded as one of the state’s best, has had no shortage of teachable moments for his players this season.
“I think Bob is one of the best in-game play-callers there is,” Muscle Shoals coach Scott Basden said. “We expected their best whether they had won or lost last week. I’m sure they’ll go back and correct some of the things that went wrong for them against Decatur. We have to be ready for their best game.”
One line of thought is the loss helps Hartselle. It snapped the Tigers’ 19-game winning streak, which included a 15-0 run to a 2011 state championship, and maybe it relieves some of the pressure of having to live up to last year’s team, which included six now-departed starters.
Don’t expect the Trojans to perceive it that way, though. For them, there’s no overlooking this opponent.
“It won’t be hard to get focused for Hartselle,” Trojans running back Jamarcus Nance said. "We’re going to eat, sleep and think about that game all week. Everybody has been talking about that game all year, and now it’s finally here.”
Sports writer Jeff Edwards contributed to this report.
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