E.A. Sports Today

Valley Cubs roar into playoffs

UPDATED: First-round 5A foes have traveled similar second-half paths

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

A month ago, Alexandria’s chances for making the Class 5A football playoffs looked iffy at best. The Valley Cubs were winning and losing on alternating Friday nights and had just suffered their worst loss of the season.

Then something wonderful happened. The light came on and the Valley Cubs started lighting up the scoreboard like at no time since 2011.

They roared into the playoffs and carry a dynamic four-game winning streak into their first-round game at Madison County.

“We’re very thankful to be in the playoffs,” Valley Cubs coach Frank Tucker said. “As the season goes along you hope to get better and we have. Hopefully we can take this momentum and benefit going into the playoffs.

“I felt pretty confident our kids weren’t going to give up. I’m not shocked we got in the playoffs. I was still hoping we’d make it (when it looked bad) and our kids responded well.”

The darkest time literally came before the dawn. The Valley Cubs were crushed by then-third-ranked Mortimer Jordan 61-21 in a Homecoming loss running back Alton Davis described as “pretty painful.” It left them 2-3 on the year, reduced some to tears and had many wondering if it wasn’t more of the same of last year’s first losing season since 2002.

But in the four games since they have produced nearly a mile of offense (1,717 yards) and scored 189 points, going over 50 three times. It is their most explosive four-game stretch since they scored 199 in Games 8 through 11 in 2011. They had scored only 109 points in the previous five games combined.

“There’s nothing that changed from a schematic standpoint,” Tucker said. “If anything, we got more basic.

“I wish I could give you an answer in what has been the difference; if I knew what it was, I’d write a book and use it every year. I can’t put my finger on why we’re doing better. I just know we are.”

The players are at a loss to give the overnight turnaround an explanation as well. Most of them place it in the category of simply coming together as a team, wanting to win or as, tackle Dakota Sams said, just “tired of losing to teams we should have beaten.”

“We just had a lot of want to,” quarterback Luke Tucker said. “We wanted to do good. We didn’t just want to come out there and play. We actually wanted to do good, we wanted to compete, we wanted to play hard and we wanted to win.

“They were all ready to step up — step up and win. They weren’t happy with what we had last year. We were all ready to grow up and I think a lot of us had matured through last year and it helped us this year. I’m proud of the way we’ve worked, the way we’ve come out and the way we’ve played.”

The Valley Cubs (6-3) have spread the success around and gone back to what they traditionally do best. Even without their leading rusher, a 200-yard-a-game freshman suspended in the middle of the winning streak for violating team rules, they have rushed for 1,450 yards in the last four games.

And it has seemed to be a different back every week. Jamal Tucker has rushed for 406 yards and eight touchdowns during the winning streak, going for 166 yards and four scores in the rescheduled St. Clair County game that jump-started it all and 100 or more three times. Davis has 281 yards and five scores in the same stretch and Tyrell Gay has added 272 yards.

“They all just want to win,” Luke Tucker said. “It isn’t just one certain person. Everybody wants to win. They’re all good. They’re all talented.”

It also has helped that the Cubs have started getting some injured linemen back. Josh Longoria missed much of the early season recovering from a knee injury and they are hopeful of getting Sams back from a recent leg infection this week. In the meantime, somebody had the step up to keep the offense moving and freshman Braden Best has drawn raves for his play.

“A lot of the credit goes to the kids, who didn’t give up,” Frank Tucker said. “It’s not been a singular thing I can say, ‘Boom, here it is;’ it just happened. I wish I could tell you what it was; I’d use it every year. It’s not a change in scheme, not a change in the way we practice. It just evolved out of our season.”

Now there is a potential for a lot of points to be scored in their playoff opener. In addition to the Valley Cubs’ proficiency, the Tigers (7-3) can score in bunches as well. The Region 7 runners-up have put up 40 points or more four times this season, 50 or more three times and 67 twice.

The second half of their season mirrors that of the Valley Cubs. They have won five in a row after a bad loss (52-6 to Walker) that left them 2-3, outscoring those opponents 142-54.

The Tigers are coached by former Wellborn head coach Scott Peavey. He split two meetings with the Cubs during his three seasons there.

“You’d think there’d be some points scored, but you never know,” Frank Tucker said. “One year (2004) we played Moody and we we’re both averaging about 35-40 points a game and it’s 3-0.”

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