ECHS Marbury

Elmore County fullback Nathan Jones (48) will continue to play a vital role in the Panthers’ rushing attack this week.

Elmore County’s first ever win over Leeds was thrilling from beginning to end as DJ Patrick’s 305 rushing yards led the Panthers to a 35-28 win at home last season. Unfortunately for the Panthers, there are plenty of changes to both sides entering this year’s matchup including no Patrick to rely on and a brand-new look to the Greenwave.

Leeds (0-2) brought plenty of attention during the offseason by hiring Jerry Hood, former state championship coach at Clay-Chalkville. Hood is still searching for his first victory at his new school but the Greenwave got really close last week in a 34-33 overtime loss to John Carroll so the Panthers are preparing to get the best effort from Leeds this week.

“They’re a much-improved football team,” ECHS coach Jordan Cantrell said. “With coach Hood, they have really upped it just like Marbury. Their defense is a lot better this year and their offense has a really good identity so it’s definitely going to be a test.”

Elmore County (0-1) have plenty of hunger of its own after blowing a lead against Marbury in its season opener. Cantrell said he saw a good response from his team during practice Monday and he knows everyone is ready to get back on the field to compete.

“We always hate losing a football game but we just came up short,” Cantrell said. “Our guys competed at a high level but there’s a lot of things to work on still. The effort is there, we just want to sharpen things up in every phase of the game.”

The Panthers saw plenty of success in their rushing attack last week but the coaching staff still wants to see more through the air despite being a run-first offense. Elmore County is running out of the wing-T but Cantrell said the passing game looked good at times last week so he wants to see it become more consistent against Leeds.

Dylan Weaver got a majority of the snaps at quarterback against Marbury but the Panthers mixed in Brody Ward later in the game and are hoping to use a similar strategy this week.

“We went into last week with the idea to rotate them and our plan is to do the same thing this week but we’ll see what happens,” Cantrell said.

The quarterback situation is also unclear for Leeds after starter Jarod Latta went down with an injury last week. However, running back Jakobi Hunter will likely be the key to the Greenwave’s success on offense no matter who lines up at quarterback.

The Panthers are entering this week with a few minor injuries suffered in the opener and some of them were still questionable when practice started this week. Elmore County does not have a roster size comparable to most of its opponents so injuries can become detrimental if they start piling up.

“In practice, no one stays fresh because everyone plays both ways,” Cantrell said. “We have a lot of guys in there the entire night so they’re not getting any rest. We knew our depth would be an issue so they have to be in great physical and mental shape for us to compete. That’s just how it is.”

The Panthers are still entering the week with plenty of confidence as they are ready to make major improvements between Game 1 and Game 2 of the season.

“On offense, we have to sharpen up our passing game and our timing there,” Cantrell said. “We want to do a better job in special teams and covering kicks. Defensively, we have to be able to stop our opponent. That’s a lot of stuff to get better on.”

PREDICTION: Leeds 33, Elmore County 17

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.