Coming off its mid-season open week, the Stanhope Elmore football team and head coach Brian Bradford face their toughest test of the year this Friday.
Stanhope will play host to undefeated Helena in a Class 6A, Region 3 matchup. The Huskies are 8-0 this year with a 5-0 record in region play. They have already clinched the region championship.
Stanhope is 4-3 this season with a 2-2 record in region play. The Mustangs are currently in a three-way tie with both Calera and Wetumpka for third place in the region.
Stanhope lost to Calera two weeks ago, 20-3, but had its bye week last week to regroup after the loss.
“Our bye week was good. It’s always good to have a bye week in the middle of the season,” Bradford said. “It just helps get everyone rested and helps get some of the hurt guys a little bit healthier. Lets all the bumps and bruises get healed up.”
Helena, led by head coach Richie Busby in his fourth season, is one of only three undefeated teams left in Class 6A this season, joining Hartselle and Clay-Chalkville. The Huskies have flexed their muscles on both sides of the ball this year.
The Huskies have three games this year where their offense has scored 40+ points, and they’re averaging 36.4 points per game this year. They have scored 30+ in all but two games this year, and their lowest scoring game came in a 20-10 win over Wetumpka to begin region play.
On the defensive side of the ball, it has been an up-and-down season for the Huskies. They have two shutouts this year, one in the opener and one against Benjamin Russell, but they have also allowed 34 points or more in three of their last four games.
The Huskies are allowing 19.8 points per game on the season, but are allowing 32.5 ppg during the last month. One of those games was a 48-40 win over Chilton County, a team Stanhope beat 34-13.
“Helena is really, really good of course,” Bradford said. “They’re really big and physical and play hard. They don’t make mistakes and are very well coached. It’s going to be a very tough challenge for us, but I feel like we are up to it. We will have to play a mistake-free game to compete with them.”
Stanhope’s offense will have some chances to score, and the Mustangs must play better on that side of the ball in order to win the game. In Stanhope’s last game, the Mustangs were held without a touchdown for the second time this year.
Calera beat Stanhope, 20-3, on Oct. 1. It was the worst offensive output this year since the Week 2 loss to Prattville.
In the other five games outside of Calera and Prattville, Stanhope is averaging 30 points per game on offense. The Mustangs’ offense begins with running back Antonio Trone, but first-year quarterback Jacob Bryant and receiver Jackson Thomas have continued to improve their chemistry this year.
“We just have to finish drives this week. We moved the ball very well against Calera, we just didn’t finish drives. We had a 14-play drive where we didn’t score. We moved the ball and had over 40 plays in that first half, but we only had three points. We have to finish our drives and have to improve on it this week.”
Despite the loss, Stanhope’s defense has continued to play at a high level this year. The Mustangs are allowing only 16.6 points per game, and they have not allowed over 29 points in a game all season.
They have not allowed over 20 points in a region game this year, and have allowed exactly 20 in three division games.
They’ll certainly be tested this week as they try to keep their postseason hopes alive.