When Mark Hastings became the coach of the Oakman Wildcats in 2009, it was a program in need of some stability. He was the fourth head coach in five seasons and the team was not very good. After a single win in 2009 and only three victories the following year, Oakman arrived in 2011 with 8 wins and a playoff victory. Since that time 8 and 10 win seasons are common place at the Walker county school. “The big key was the consistency of our players staying in our system from middle school on up,” Hastings said. “We finally developed some cohesiveness and I was able to do the same with our coaching staff.”
Ryan Lolley walked into a completely different scenario at Gordo when he became head coach in 2013. David McKinney left to go to North Jackson after winning 52 games in six seasons. The Green Wave already had a strong tradition in football, and Lolley had spent 11 seasons there as an assistant coach. He was well prepared. After a 7 win season in 2013, Gordo has been one of the state’s top 3A teams with undefeated regular seasons over the last three fall campaigns. But the trip to the state finals has alluded Gordo. Last season they lost to Mobile Christian 21-14 in the semi finals. But a playoff run in 2017 looks to be a strong possibility.
These two strong 3A power from west central Alabama meet in a key Region 4 shootout Friday night. It is the ALFCA Game of the Week.
When 2017 started Gordo had a 30 game regular season win streak. But rival Fayette County knocked them off 18-14 to end the string. The following week the Green Wave nipped Aliceville 21-20, before heading into an open week. The open date came at a great time. “We were banged up,” said Coach Lolley. “We took a little time off, worked in shells and polished up our offense. It also gave us some extra time to prepare for a tough Midfield team.” The formula worked. Gordo beat Midfield 20-6 and then bumped off Carbon Hill and Sipsey Valley by identical 49-6 scores to run their record to 4-1 record.
The strength of this Gordo team is defense and Coach Lolley returned nine starters off last year’s semi final squad. “We are at +14 turnover ratio,” he said, which pretty much describes his defense. “Our offensive line has improved. We run the ball better now which has really helped our passing game.” As usual, the Green Wave takes great pride in their special teams. “Defense and special teams has been a good combination for us,” Lolley said.
Oakman has also used a consistent run game out of the shotgun to a 4-1 record. Coach Hastings said that their pass protection has not been what they hoped which has hurt their passing attack. “Our big plays have been somewhat limited,” he said. But the Wildcats have developed some mental toughness and discipline over the past few seasons. “We have good kids and good parents at Oakman,” Hastings said. He believes his team’s best days lie ahead. “We haven’t come close to playing our best game yet,” he said.
Coach Hastings has great respect for the Gordo program and Ryan Lolley. “They are extremely well coached. Ryan and his staff do a great job,” he said. “They just reload each year. This team looks like all the others. They are very sound on defense. Their consistency year after year is just amazing,” Hastings said.
Lolley believes that the Oakman game was the most physical contest his team played last year. “We will be tested with Oakman,” he said. “Their offense is so polished and well coached. They do a great job with misdirection. We better get aligned properly and read our keys against this group,” Lolley said.
To win the game, the Green Wave coach says he first will need a strong effort from his kicking game. “Then we must get aligned properly and tackle well on defense and we must have success running the ball with no turnovers,” he said. Hastings believes that his Wildcats must play mistake free football. “We made three mistakes in the first quarter last year and the score was 21-0. You don’t make mistakes on Gordo. They will make you pay,” he said. “We need some breaks on offense and we need to make some big plays if we are to beat Gordo.”
The region title race looks to be a three way contest with Oakman, Gordo and last year’s region champs American Christian. Both squads play the private school in the second half of the year. But no game is bigger right now than this physical match up which will put the winner into the driver’s seat in Region 4 of Class 3A, prepared for a playoff run.