Golden Tigers have big advantage in playoff experience

By Staff
Russellville and Sylacauga, first-round opponents in the Class 5A state playoffs, do not have much in common when it comes to recent postseason resumes.
The Golden Tigers (9-1) are in the playoffs for the seventh straight season, and they've made a habit of sticking around for a while. Russellville has advanced at least as far as the state semifinals in each of the past six years, making it all the way to the Super Six three straight seasons from 2002-04.
During those six years, the Golden Tigers have amassed an impressive 21-6 playoff record under head coach Perry Swindall.
On the other hand, Sylacauga is enjoying postseason play for the first time since 2001. The Aggies (6-4) ended a streak of four straight losing seasons this year, and second-year head coach Matt Griffith said his team has a lot of respect for Russellville's recent playoff experience.
"The thing about Russellville is they are always in the hunt for a state championship," said Griffith, who took the Aggies from a 2-8 record in his first season to a playoff berth this year. "They're used to being in the playoffs, and they're used to winning. That's the biggest thing. Those are some concerns for us. Briarwood Christian and Benjamin Russell are usually in the hunt for a championship too, so we hope that playing teams like that during the regular season will be beneficial to us."
The Aggies, the No. 4 seed out of Region 5, opened the season with four straight wins before falling to Childersburg in Week 5. They defeated Moody 17-14 the following week to improve to 4-0 in region play, but then the schedule got considerably tougher.
Sylacauga lost to Briarwood, Chelsea and Benjamin Russell in consecutive weeks, sliding down into the No. 4 spot in the region.
All three of those teams are also in the playoffs, and Griffith is hoping that tough competition during the regular season has helped prepare his team for playoff football.
"It's been pretty close all year [in the region]," said Griffith, whose team lost 22-14 to eventual region champ Chelsea in Week 8. "We play in a tough region, and we hope that has helped prepare us to face somebody like Russellville."
The Aggies boast 18 seniors, but none of them have ever been to the playoffs.
"This team hasn't been to the playoffs or even had a winning season in five years," Griffith said. "They have a great tradition here going back to the '70s, '80s and '90s, but they've fallen on hard times the past few years."
Russellville will aim to make sure that Sylacauga's first playoff appearance since 2001 is a brief one.
The Golden Tigers are sure to be plenty fired up after last week's 14-13 loss to Florence, a loss that ended their 28-game regular season win streak and prevented them from posting a 10-0 record for the second straight year.
Russellville's defense, which held Florence to 97 yards and three first downs in the second half last week, must be prepared to face a running quarterback in Sylacauga senior Blake Payton.
Payton had touchdown runs of 56 and 25 yards in last week's 60-8 win over B.B. Comer.
The winner of tonight's game will advance to face either Mortimer Jordan or Butler in the second round next week.