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Caleb Turrentine / Tallapoosa Publishers Holtville's Drake Baker (1) attempts to stiff arm a Marbury tackler.

For the first time since 2005, Holtville’s football team has reached the postseason in back-to-back seasons and there are plenty of positives the Bulldogs are taking from the resurgence under third-year coach Jason Franklin. They are now looking to take the next step as the Bulldogs search for their first playoff win since 1993 but standing in their way is a trip to Tuscaloosa to face No. 3 American Christian.

“At this point, everybody’s record is wiped clean,” Franklin said. “It’s just about going out and playing well. Being here is how you can be remembered. You have an extra week to get better.”

Holtville (6-4) wrapped up the regular season with a loss to Marbury but Franklin said that game served as a good way to prepare for the first round. American Christian uses similar schemes on both sides of the ball so getting live reps against some of things the Bulldogs have seen from their playoff opponent on film was a silver lining to the rivalry loss. 

The Bulldogs have seen plenty of film on the Patriots and Franklin said he wants his players to understand they can still compete this week despite drawing one of the toughest teams in Class 4A.

“We’re going to flip on the film and show them we play with these guys,” Franklin said. “But a lot of that is about belief. There’s no doubt in my mind that we can but I don’t get to play anymore so they have to buy in.”

American Christian (9-1) won the Region 3 title and is in the postseason for the fifth consecutive season. The Patriots made it to the quarterfinals the last two seasons but they are looking for more this season.

They were ranked as high as No. 2 by the Alabama Sports Writers Association this season but the Patriots are coming off their only defeat of the regular season after falling to Bibb County in Week 10.

“Bibb County is a very good team so we can’t underscore that loss too much,” Franklin said. “They just played really aggressive and were physical with them. I don’t think many teams did that this year but Bibb County was not scared of playing with them and that was the key to the game.”

Franklin said he believes Holtville’s style can match up well with the Patriots but it’s not going to be easy. American Christian boasts talent at every position across the field and the Bulldogs will have to be ready for any number of opposing players to make a play.

The Patriots have a slight advantage in depth but the starters have been enough to pull away in most games. Quarterback Lawson Pratt leads a pass-heavy offense with receivers Danqarious Parker and Kamari Lassiter as go-to targets but running back KeyShawn Graham has also been a factor, scoring at least two touchdowns on the ground in seven games.

“The big thing this time of year is being precise,” Franklin said. “We saw that last week against Marbury. There’s just a slight difference between no gain and a big play. We have to limit those.”

Holtville’s offense is looking to respond from last week’s performance after racking up nearly 400 yards but falling short with four turnovers. Franklin said there is going to be an extra emphasis in practice on taking care of the ball but he also knows the Bulldogs will have to take some chances when the opportunities arise.

“There are going to be some down and distances we want to be aggressive,” Franklin said. “You have to keep the defense honest. I’m sure they know we do force the ball down field sometimes but we just have to pick our chances.”

PREDICTION: American Christian 41, Holtville 21

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.