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Caleb Turrentine / The Herald Stanhope Elmore’s Tray Duncan (24) tries to avoid Opelika’s Jarell Stinson (22).

In three seasons under coach Brian Bradford, Stanhope Elmore has seen its program get back to its winning ways as the Mustangs will play in the postseason for the third straight year. They have seen their regular-season record improve each season but now the Mustangs will try to get over the hump they have struggled with since moving to Class 6A as they host Paul Bryant in the first round of the playoffs.

Stanhope Elmore (8-2) has lost four straight first-round games and is 1-9 in the opening round since making the jump after a 5A semifinal appearance  in 2004. However, this will be the first time since 2010 they will get to play the postseason opener at Foshee-Henderson stadium where the Mustangs are 13-4 all time in the playoffs.

“It’s always more fun to do these things at home,” Bradford said. “We’re excited to have our fans behind us again. We haven’t really talked about those first-round struggles. We’re just trying to win a game.”

Stanhope is coming off its biggest margin of victory of the season after shutting out Greenville in a 28-0 win. Bryant also just defeated a playoff-bound team by winning its regular-season finale 31-28 over Homewood but the Stampede have not looked as strong as they did early in the season.

Bryant (7-3) has allowed 27.3 points per game since its bye week in Week 7 after allowing just 9.3 ppg its first seven games. Despite that, Bradford said his team is preparing to get Bryant’s best game of the year.

“Once you get to the playoffs, everyone is going to be good,” Bradford said. “We know we will get their best game and they’re going to get our best. We already know they are better than a lot of teams we have played this year.”

Bradford said Bryant’s athleticism makes it stand out on film, starting with two players in the backfield. Quarterback Ty Edwards likes to get out of the pocket and gain yards on the ground but he can still throw the ball well while running back Joshua Hinton is “faster than anyone (Stanhope) has seen” according to Bradford.

Inside linebacker Xavier Morrow, a 3-star recruit on 247Sports, leads the defense and Bradford said there are still plenty of concerns on having success against the Stampede despite their recent lapses.

“They’re just solid everywhere on that side,” Bradford said. “The defense is what leads that team still. They are very athletic and very tough to match up with. We may have to attack them a little bit more through the air this week.”

While the Mustangs are focused on this week’s game against Bryant, it is tough not to look forward in the bracket and see what could be looming in the second round. No. 1 Saraland, which defeated Stanhope in the first round of last year’s playoffs, could set up a rematch in the second round if both teams take care of business at home the first round.

“We know what could be waiting for us,” Bradford said. “We always try not to look ahead though and we focus on the opponent we have. We want to get past this one and then we will go and play whoever they tell us to next.”

PREDICTION: Stanhope Elmore 21, Bryant 14

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.