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Cliff Williams / The Outlook Holtville's Kolby Potts finds a way around end against Coosa in last week's game

The 2019 football season was always going to be key for Holtville to change the perception of the program outside Elmore County. The Bulldogs now have their first chance to make the first dent in that goal when they host Handley on Friday night to open play in Class 4A Region 4.

Holtville (1-0) has never defeated Handley and despite the success last season, the Bulldogs were still not match in this game, losing 30-7 on the road. In the last seven seasons, Handley has defeated Holtville with an average margin of victory of 25 points but the Bulldogs are ready for the opportunity to break that losing streak and set the stage for a breakthrough season.

“That’s a big mindset for us — very big,” Holtville coach Jason Franklin said. “If you want to change the perception of Holtville, which we’ve done that a little bit, but go out and beat a quality opponent like this. Go out there and do it this week to send a message that maybe we are for real. Or maybe we’ll set the tone that we are the same ole Holtville this week.”

The Tigers (0-1) are not the same team they used to be but the program still has plenty of great athletes ready to compete. After losing to Tallassee in its season opener, Handley is ready to turn things around as it focuses on getting back to championship-quality football.

Holtville will have to be on the lookout for several returning players for the Tigers, including running back Devontae Houston. He’ll be joined by all-state player and 5-star recruit Dylan Brooks, who makes an impact on both sides. Brooks is committed to Auburn as a defensive end and Franklin said the Bulldogs are focused on slowing down Brooks’ impact.

“I challenge our guys to go out there and shut down a guy like that,” Franklin said. “You can make a name for yourself. They have an opportunity to play against a top-tier athlete so go out there and do something about it. He’s a good player and you have to know where he’s at at all times. It’s just about if they are up for the challenge.”

Despite Handley losing its season opener, Franklin knows the Tigers are still just as threatening as ever across both sides of the ball. Holtville’s jamboree was cut short due to rain and its win over Central Coosa in Week 1 was cut short to limit scoring so the Bulldogs have not been challenged for 48 minutes yet and Franklin knows there is still things to work on.

“They’re still same ole Handley,” Franklin said. “They’re athletic, physical so we’re going to have to bring our best effort to be successful. We still have a lot of things to correct ourselves before this Friday night because they don’t make a lot of mistakes so we have to limit ours.”

Holtville is putting its seven-game home winning streak on the line. The Bulldogs were one of three teams in the region to go unbeaten at home in region play and Franklin expects it to be just as important this year.

“In our region, you have to take care of the home games,” Franklin said. “It’s tough to go on the road and win. The time constraints, the driving, the distances just add to it and they’re quality teams. It’s nice to have that home crowd with you. It’s just different.”

PREDICTION: Holtville 28, Handley 20

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.