It cannot be easy playing in front of 100,000 enemy fans when players are trying to focus on the football game they are playing. But sometimes it does not take that many fans to make an impact.
During the 2018 season, the six teams in Elmore County combined for a 25-9 record in home games. They outscored opponents by an average margin of 10.2 points per home contest.
“You never want to lose at home,” Stanhope Elmore coach Brian Bradford said. “You want to win in front of your own crowd because that’s when you have your support system with you. We want to win whether its home or away but definitely those home games because it is your environment and I think our student section and our fans do a good job making that happen.”
Teams take pride in winning on their own fields and the biggest example may have been Stanhope’s win over then-No. 1 Wetumpka at Foshee-Henderson Stadium last season. The Mustangs had already lost twice at home during the season and they did not want to see it happen again, especially to their region rivals.
Wetumpka has had a great home-field advantage itself, as it racked up 14 consecutive wins at Hohenberg Field spanning the past three seasons. However, the Indians saw that streak end when Saraland won the semifinal game in Wetumpka.
“We have a weight on our shoulders now,” Wetumpka senior Malik Davis said. “Since that Saraland loss, it hasn’t been the same. We have something to prove. That’s The Berg. We can’t lose at The Berg.”
Wetumpka coach Tim Perry said creating a strong confidence while playing at home was one of his goals when he took over the program. The Indians are 25-5 at home since 2014 and they have played six playoff games at Hohenberg Field since 2017 which Perry said has contributed to the atmosphere.
“It has really been a big key to that, maybe the most important part,” Perry said. “It won’t just be our regular fans and our parents but we’re going to draw people out of the community for a playoff game at home. Fans want to follow a winner and if we’re having success, more people will come out and bigger crowds get people more excited about Wetumpka football.”
Not far down the road, Holtville is hoping to build its own tradition around its home stadium. For the first time since 2008, the Bulldogs put together an unbeaten season at Boykin Field, winning all five games by an average of 25.8 points. While winning at home is always a goal, Holtville coach Jason Franklin wants to find a way to take that momentum on the road.
“When that’s happening, you have to treat everywhere like it’s at home,” Franklin said. “I don’t know if we really did anything different. Unfortunately, in our region, those road games end up being about two hours (away) so that kind of throws you a bit in your pregame ritual.”
Edgewood may not have the numbers to use its crowd for a home-field advantage but the Wildcats got three huge wins at home last season. The team went unbeaten at home in region play and defeated Clarke Prep 42-0 in the first round of the playoffs.
“Getting a home playoff game is huge because that’s something you can give back to the community,” Edgewood coach Darryl Free said. “You want to play that game at home because the emotion is high and it gets more fans here. I think it’s more of a pride thing that your hard work has paid off and you get rewarded with a home playoff game.”
Across the river, Tallassee wants to reclaim its home-field advantage which seemed to disappear at times last season. The Tigers are 31-11 at J.E. Hot O’Brien Stadium since coach Mike Battles took over in 2012 but they were just 3-3 in 2018.
Last season marked the first time under Battles the Tigers did not finish above .500 at home. The Tigers have just four home games in 2019 but three of them are in region play and one is against rival Elmore County so Tallassee is hoping it can use its home-field advantage in those big matchups.
“We try to win every game home and away,” Battles said. “You can see their eyes light up when they come out of our fieldhouse and see our fans but when they hit the field, I think everything else is the same. You like playing at home because you don’t have to travel so you can get a little more rest but it’s not anything we make a big deal about.”
Elmore County has started a run of its own in Eclectic. The Panthers finished the 2018 season with a 4-1 record at Burt-Haynie Field, their best mark since 2008. ECHS coach Jordan Cantrell said he wants to use the home fans to their advantage but they cannot use going on the road as an excuse.
“There are so many factors and distractions; we want to put those excuses and factors away,” Cantrell said. “We just want to go play football. Away games or homes games, we just want to go out and perform.”
While coaches may never agree on how much home-field actually matters in high school football, it is clear everyone prefers to be playing on their own turf. And everyone’s goal is to get that first-round playoff game at home to build some momentum as they try to make a run at a state title.