When Roger McDonald arrived in Ozark in 2013, the Carroll High football team had only six winning seasons in the last 23 years. The last time the Eagles had won 8 games in a season was 1989. After two tough first seasons, Carroll won the last three games of the 2015 campaign. When the Eagles dropped to 5A in 2016 they were ready to fly. McDonald’s squad won 12 straight games before losing to eventual 5A champion Beauregard in the quarterfinals. On the way, Carroll set school records for most wins (12) and most points scored (453).
It was a different situation for Eufaula’s Bryan Moore. He inherited a program with a rich football heritage, bolstered by some of the state’s best coaches over the years- George Cochrane, Wayne Woodham, Rush Propst, Mike Owens, Shayne Wasden and Dan Klages. He took over a team that had just suffered only their second losing season in 20 years. The Eufaula Tigers had been won of the most consistent winning programs in the state and looked to Moore to return the Tigers to state playoff prominence.
The two teams collide Friday night in a key 5A Region 2 game in Eufaula. It is the ALFCA Game of the Week.
Carroll is off to a fast 3-0 start with the same formula that McDonald had preached last season. Good defense, strong running game, and attention to the kicking game has worked well for the Eagles. “It’s all I’ve ever known,” Coach McDonald said. “I’m not smart enough to do a lot of fancy stuff on offense. Our players have bought into our physical style of play. We want to run the ball. We are going to do what we know how to do.”
The philosophy has worked well. Carroll has won 16 straight regular season games. In 2017, The Eagles have defeated Daleville 39-0, a tough Charles Henderson squad 10-3, and won over Headland 29-0 last week. The defense has yet to give up a touchdown, partially because of a coaching decision the Carroll staff decided upon in the early stages of practice. “We knew we lost a lot of experienced and talented players, so we decided to put our best group on defense, except for our tailback,” said McDonald. “We have given more practice time to defense than offense. We just felt like if we worked at our kicking game and played good defense, we could keep the game close every week.” The Eagles had a nucleus of offensive linemen returning, so the physical running game has continued.
Eufaula is coming off an 8-3 season in 2016. One of those losses was to Carroll, a 41-30 contest. After beating Early County (Ga.) in Week 0 to open the 2017 season, The Tigers lost 48-24 to a ranked 6A Wetumpka squad. They came from behind to beat B.T. Washington 29-22 in overtime and last week defeated a tough Central Clay team 28-23. Once again, the Tigers had to come from behind in the fourth quarter to win the game. “We didn’t play well against B.T. Washington, but we played much better last week,” Coach Moore said. “Clay Central is a good football team. It was a good win for us.”
Eufaula sophomore Zy Tennille runs for yardage vs Clay Central – Photo Credit Billy Andrews
“We hope that playing these tight games will help us down the road,” Moore said. “There are always close games to be played in the playoffs. I hope it will help give us the confidence we can win the close ones.” He knows that Carroll brings a strong defense into the game, having given up only three points. “They have quite a few guys back on that side of the ball, and they had a good defense last year,” he said. “Carroll is a ball control team. They want to run the ball, run the clock and limit your possessions. They beat Charles Henderson by keeping the ball away from them. Carroll keeps making first downs and the clock keeps running,” Moore said.
To win the game Coach McDonald said the Eagles cannot turn the ball over. “I know that all coaches say that, but we really can’t. They are probably a little more talented than us, and we have to shorten the game and make it a four quarter fight.”
Coach Roger McDonald of Carroll believes ball control is the key to victory for his Eagles.
Photo credit Jay Hare Dothan Eagle
Moore said to assure victory, his Tigers must get some three and outs. “We didn’t do that last year, and they had the ball too much of the time.” He also believes that his team needs to start faster than last year. “They want to wear you down physically in the second half,” he said. “We can’t allow that to happen.”
Regardless of the outcome, both teams look to be playoff contenders in 5A this season. This game should be close, but look for it to be one of the first scores you hear Friday night.