The Elmore County football team is still looking for its first win of the season, and it will have to overcome quite the challenge to get it this week.
Elmore County (0-4, 0-2 in Class 5A, Region 4) travels to face rival Tallassee (1-2, 0-1) on Friday night at 7 p.m. The two teams have played each other every year since 1971, and Tallassee currently holds a 36-22-1 record against Elmore County in the matchup.
Tallassee has also dominated the rivalry in recent years, having won five consecutive games and 11 of the last 13. Nonetheless, Elmore County head coach Jordan Cantrell is hoping his team can pull out their first win of the season at J.E. “Hot” O’Brien Stadium.
“They’ve got a top-notch running back out there and he’s the commander for them,” Cantrell said of Tallassee. “He’s lined up at quarterback a lot. They have a quarterback ,but they direct snap it to him a lot. He’s one of the best running backs I’ve seen in a long time.”
That running back is Jalyn Daniels, who is Tallassee’s workhorse this year. Daniels, a senior, is one of the fastest players in the state and has numerous Division I offers. During the summer, Daniels was clocked running a 4.37 40-yard dash at a college camp.
Daniels’ skill is heavily used at Tallassee so far this year. Daniels has recorded over 30 carries in each of Tallassee’s three games this year. He has rushed 97 times for 646 yards and seven touchdowns, an average of 6.5 yards per carry.
Tallassee has used him in a few different ways. In the season opener, he was used primarily at quarterback and took direct snaps. Since quarterback Tyler Ellis has returned from COVID protocols, he has moved back to running back but still takes direct snaps throughout the game.
“He’s super fast and his endurance is amazing,” Cantrell said of Daniels. “As many times as they call his name to run it, it’s amazing. He’s going to be a big test for us. A lot of the time, if he hits the edge on you, he’s taking it all the way. He can cause a lot of problems for you defensively.”
Elmore County’s defense has struggled up to this point this year. The Panthers are giving up 43.5 points per game on defense, and have only held the opposing team under 40 points once in four games this season.
That defense will be tested by Daniels and company, but Elmore County has a workhorse of its own on offense.
Quarterback Payton Stephenson is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the area, and he’s shown that this season. Stephenson headlines the passing attack when the Panthers decide to throw the ball, but he is most dangerous on the ground.
Stephenson is the leading rusher for Elmore County, and he has four rushing touchdowns to his name. No other player has more than one. He also has two touchdown passes, both to sophomore receiver Jabari Murphy.
“This is his second year to play varsity football with us, and he’s a great leader on the football team,” Cantrell said of Stephenson. “He works endlessly for us to improve his game. He’s a force running the gall and throwing the ball too. We are proud of what he’s doing. He threw some pretty good passes the other night. We want to build off of that on offense and see where it takes us.”