Mitchell Boyd

Brian Tannehill Edgewood quarterback Alex Johnson (2) hands the ball off to running back Mitchell Boyd (7) on Friday.

Due to two teams dropping out of AISA-AA Region 1 prior to the season, Edgewood has already secured a spot in the postseason. However, with three region games still to be played, the Wildcats have their eyes on securing a home playoff game for the second consecutive season and that chase officially begins this week when they host Springwood.

“We’re talking about the importance of region play but we don’t mention the playoffs yet,” Edgewood coach Darryl Free said. “We just have to know how important it is to start off on the right foot in region play and set the tone for the rest of the season.”

Edgewood (3-0) is off to its hottest start since 2015 after defeating three teams from AISA-AAA. However, the Wildcats know now is not the time to start slacking off as games become more important to the team’s postseason fate. Free said it can be difficult to keep young athletes focused when success comes their way but he believes his players understand what’s on the line.

“There’s challenges to a quick start,” Free said. “You’re glad to be winning ballgames but you want to keep kids humble and keep them hungry. They have to stay focused and that can be tricky. At the end of the day, we’re playing against the standard that we set. We have to buy into that week in and week out.”

Springwood (2-1) enters region play coming off its first loss but it has shown signs of improvement. After easing to two-touchdown wins over Success Unlimited and Cornerstone on the road, Springwood fell against Lowndes despite holding a halftime lead.

Free said his coaching staff has worked on finding Springwood’s biggest strengths but it can be tough without knowing much about its competition.

“It’s tricky,” Free said. “You want to look at those wins to see what they wanted to do and what they did well but you also want to look at the loss to see what they were able to do against a better opponent. It’s really a chess match to dissect those films and make a decision on what you think they do best.”

Springwood has made some changes to its offensive formations but still relies on its rushing attack. Quarterback Jordan Plank is in his third year as the starter but he has not thrown a touchdown pass yet this season.

Plank is still a major force in the running game and leads Springwood with six touchdowns on the ground. O.J. Tolbert leads in rushing yards, averaging 125.7 yards per game, while Francis Okeyla has become the go-to receiver.

“They’re very multiple on the offensive side of the ball,” Free said. “They run different things than they did last year. It’s a lot more shotgun and a lot more throwing the ball than they have in the past. It’ll force us to adjust again but it will allow us to get back to our base defense.”

After defending two wing-T offenses the last two weeks, Edgewood is looking forward to playing defense the way it wants to. Springwood is expected to run plenty of read options with a mix of screen passes but that’s a pretty familiar look for Edgewood.

“Our defense all summer guarded our offense and our offense looks very similar to what they run,” Free said. “If anything, it ought to be something more familiar for our defense than we’ve seen the past two weeks.”

Edgewood is going to be missing a key piece on both sides after running back and linebacker Trey Killingsworth tore his ACL. After using a running back by committee for the first three weeks, Free is turning to leading rusher Mitchell Boyd as the first option in the backfield to pick up the slack with Killingsworth out for the season.

“We’ll still have numerous guys running the football,” Free said. “Mitchell is just a hard worker and runs the ball hard. He knows how to make cuts and how to read defenses. He’s just done a great job for us this year and he’s earned the right to be our No. 1 back.”

PREDICTION: Edgewood 42, Springwood 12

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.