Holtville Clay Football

Andy Anders / The Herald Holtville linebacker Mikey Forney walks out for the opening coin toss against Central of Clay County Friday.

When the Tallassee and Holtville football teams meet on the gridiron this Friday night, playoff seeding implications are imminent.

Holtville hosts Tallassee this Friday at 7 p.m. in a Class 5A, Region 4 matchup. Both teams are sitting at 3-1 in region play and both have already clinched a playoff berth.

The two teams are in a three-way tie for second place in the division. Both of them, along with Sylacauga, are 3-1 in region play while Central-Clay County has already won the region championship with a 5-0 region record.

The winner of Holtville and Tallassee will have a chance to host a home playoff game, while the loser will likely hit the road in the first round in a few weeks.

“Last year, this was the point of the season when COVID hit and we were forced to forfeit against Talladega and Holtville,” Tallassee coach Mike Battles said. “That forced us out of the playoffs. Now we are in the playoffs and every game we win from here on out gets us a better seeding. It’s a big game.”

Holtville is coming off its first region loss of the season to Clay-Central, but the Bulldogs have a 5-2 record on the year. Holtville won its first game of the season via forfeit, and after losing to West Blocton in a non-region game, reeled off four wins in a row.

The Bulldogs have been solid in all three phases of the game this year, but their defense has stepped up week after week. Holtville allows only 20.9 points per game this year and allowed only 16 ppg during their four-game win streak before last week.

The Bulldogs are led by linebacker Mikey Forney, who has 81 tackles already this year. That is good for 7th best in the state of Alabama. On the defensive line is Cooper Mann, who has 7 sacks and 30 tackles this year.

Battles has been impressed with Holtville’s defense on film, and said the Bulldogs don’t miss assignments very much and can cause mismatches with how physical they play.

“They play really hard and they are always where they’re supposed to be,” Battles said. “We are going to have to go out and actually block them, cause they’re not going to get out of our way. They’re very physical and we know what we’re getting into. They’re a blue-collar team and they’re always going to be where they need to be. You aren’t faking or fooling them on defense.”

To match Holtville’s defense, Tallassee’s sports an extremely dangerous and dynamic offense. Led by the speedy Jalyn Daniels at running back, the Tigers are averaging 33 ppg and are two or three plays away from being undefeated at this point of the year.

Tallassee (4-2) has two losses by a combined six points, and one of the losses game on a Hail Mary pass as time expired. Tallassee’s offense, which can line up in multiple formations including a wildcat with Daniels at quarterback instead of Tyler Ellis, has scored over 33 points in five of their six games.

In region play so far, the Tigers are averaging 38 ppg.

“Their offense runs through Jalyn, either in their single-wing wildcat stuff they do or even running their jets and their normal run game,” Holtville coach Jason Franklin said. “Jalyn is a really, really good ballplayer and a tough kid. You have to account for him to stop, but the Ellis kid has done a really good job throwing the ball and running the offense, and he’s mobile. They have plenty of kids you have to prepare for.”

As good as Daniels and the Tallassee offense has been, the Tallassee defense has played just as well. The Tigers have allowed only 17 combined points in their last three games, and they shutout an opponent last week for the first time since 2018.

Battles said his team is communicating more and no longer giving up the big plays they were early in the year, and that’s exactly what Franklin has seen on film so far.

“They’ve been playing well and they’re getting pressured from their down three,” Franklin said. “Their linebackers are playing well and they don’t give up big plays. They keep everything in front and give you a few different looks, so you have to prepare from anything from a 3-man front to a 6-man front.”