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Northridge has big task against McGill-Toolen


James Cox (9), Northridge’s leading returning receiver, and the Jaguars will have their hands full against No. 4 McGill-Toolen tonight in the Champions Challenge. (Photo by Jason Harless)


TUSCALOOSA | Mike Smith has been building the Northridge football program since the school opened in 2003, but he’s never faced a coaching dilemma like this.

Northridge, which set a school record for wins with a 10-2 record and claimed its first Class 6A playoff victory, was invited to the Champions Challenge in Cramton Bowl.

Smith’s Jaguars have a preseason poll ranking for the first time at No. 9. Tonight’s opponent, McGill-Toolen of Mobile, is No. 4 in Class 6A.

Smith is trying to prepare his players for a rugged schedule, but he understands that it’s a showcase event, even though the result won’t count on either team’s record.

"It’s a unique problem, I guess," Smith said. "It’s a good problem to have. I told our parents we’re not going to sacrifice the season for this game, but we’re going to go out there and try to make a good show in it.

"I think the invitation itself was based on previous work, so that’s a reflection of our kids, our program and our coaches. What we do with that respect we’ve gotten has yet to be determined."

Smith’s teams have faced perennial power Hoover in preseason games in the past two years. Hoover is a Region 5 opponent for the Jaguars this season.

"We’ve had that experience of playing a top-ranked team, but not everybody was watching," said Smith, who is planning to utilize a lot of player. "This one is definitely different. It’s a pretty big deal.

"My region schedule is so tough and my non-region schedule is so tough I don’t have time to find this out during the season. I don’t have time to develop a team or take them along slowly because of who we play right up front."

Tanner Cline is expected to start at quarterback for the Jaguars. Senior wide receiver James Cox is a college prospect. Northridge fans are waiting to see how well running back Bo Scarbrough has recovered from the knee injury that caused him to miss the last three games of his sophomore season. Smith said Scarbrough has been limited a bit by a slight muscle pull but should play tonight.

The challenge for the Northridge defense is to contain McGill-Toolen senior quarterback Jason Smith, who has committed to Auburn.

"If we can do a great job of adjusting to his speed early, that’s what I’m looking for to keep him from having his big plays," Mike Smith said.

Montell Dent will start in the defensive secondary for the Jaguars. Mike Smith said the defensive front is made up of experienced players.

"They’ve got to do a really good job so the guys behind them can mature because we replaced a lot of starters," Mike Smith said.

Brandon Prince and Hunter Smith are expected to start at defensive end, and Bruce Brown, Jalen Madden and Dominic Branch will rotate in at defensive tackle.

"This is not a state championship," Mike Smith said. "This is a great springboard to try to compete for a state championship. We’re not going to try to sell out and win it all on this one, but this one could surely be used as a tool to win one."

 

Reach Andrew Carroll at andrew.carroll@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0223.