0821-We2 at Fairhope pre 2

Caleb Turrentine / The Herald Wetumpka running back Jaedyn Peterson takes a handoff from backup quarterback Robert Rose during Monday’s practice.

The returning players have been in the spotlight throughout the offseason but with the first game finally here, the pressure is on the newcomers to perform. Wetumpka will be relying heavily on the stars on both sides but the team is looking to get extra production from the first-year starters to get them over the hump.

“We have more guys starting for the first time than we have the last couple of years,” Wetumpka coach Tim Perry said. “We’re a little concerned with having those guys in game situation. It’s almost impossible to duplicate the intensity in practice. There’s going to be a learning curve.”

Unfortunately for Wetumpka, that first game situation will come on the road against Class 7A No. 10 Fairhope on Friday. The Indians won last year’s meeting by 18 points but with two brand new teams taking the field, Wetumpka will have to work hard to get the same result.

Perry said he saw a change in intensity during Monday’s practice as the first game week began. The older players stepped up when they needed to but the coaching staff is still searching for more consistency from everyone.

“We’re looking for better execution,” Perry said. “This is game week, we can’t afford to have mistakes or miscues if we want to win the game. We want the guys to do what we’ve coached them to do and play with a lot of intensity. They’re excited and the energy was good today.”

Wetumpka’s offense is expected to lead the way but it will have to rely on some inexperienced players at the line of scrimmage. Fairhope allowed just 17.5 points per game at home last season and the Pirates return a bulk of their starting lineup.

“If our information is correct, based off last year’s film, they’re a little more veteran team defensively,” Perry said. “That’s going to be a big challenge for us. We like our game plan offensively but when you don’t have any game film in this first game, we’re still not sure what to expect.”

Despite the question marks being on the offensive line, Wetumpka still expects to use its rushing attack to wear down opponents. However, with the confidence in the passing game, the Indians feel like they can adjust whenever its needed.

“We have an identity offensively and we’re going to stick with that,” Perry said. “We want to utilize the guys we have coming back on offense and try to get the ball to them to let them make plays. But it will all depend on what we see from them defensively. We just have to make adjustments.”

If Wetumpka’s offense clicks quickly, Fairhope will not be backing down from the fight. Despite being limited in their returning starters, the Pirates will turn to Riley Leonard at quarterback and he is expected to lead the offense to new heights.

“He started at receiver against us but I know he played quarterback a lot later in the season last year,” Perry said. “He runs the ball well and throws the ball very well and he’s a big guy. He understands the offense so he causes some concern for us.”

Friday’s game is the start of Wetumpka’s long road trip but this week’s game will be the farthest. Fairhope is just the first of many early tests for Wetumpka and Perry is hoping his team will learn from the experience no matter what the results are.

“That’s going to pay dividends for us,” Perry said. “Everyone’s goal right now is to go 15-0, that’s our goal right now. But also, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. When you get to November, the experience you gain from these games that hopefully will pay off.”

PREDICTION: Fairhope 35, Wetumpka 30

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.