Zion Chapel football coach Randy Bryant told folks last season that the Rebels’ Class 2A, Region 3 was like playing in the SEC West.
Luverne, Highland Home, Goshen and New Brockton traditionally led the top-heavy region that produced state title contenders.
That was before he saw Zion Chapel’s new lineup in Class 2A, Region 2.
“Now I’m going to say we’re in what feels like the College Football Playoff, I guess,” Bryant said. “We’re playing some heavyweights.”
The new eight-team region includes G.W. Long, Ariton, Abbeville, Elba, Cottonwood, Geneva County and Houston County. Five of those schools made the state playoffs last season, including his own Rebels, and a couple others lost tie-breakers or lost in the regular-season finale to just miss the postseason.
“It’s definitely different. I thought we played in hard region in previous years, but this is definitely harder,” Bryant said. “Highland Home and Luverne moved north. Calhoun and Central moved out of our region, as well. Goshen and New Brockton went to 3A. Samson dropped to 1A.
“Basically, it’s all new. We’ve played Elba before in our region years ago and we played Houston County as a non-region game my first year here. Samson, we’ve played in our region last year, but it’s non-region this year. Ariton, we’ve played before. There’s a little familiarity but not a lot.”
Zion Chapel’s program took a big step forward when the Rebels earned their first trip to the playoffs in eight years last season. It was also Zion Chapel’s first winning record in that time (6-5).
Bryant, in his fourth year at the helm, has gone from 2-8 to 5-5 and now 6-5. While the Rebels may not have faced the depth that the new region will have, they have definitely faced quality opponents.
“The past two seasons, we’ve played the South winner,” he said.
In 2018, Luverne finished second in the region but stormed to the state title game. Last year, Zion Chapel played eventually state runner-up Reeltown in the first round of the playoffs.
“We’ve got to continue to improve,” Bryant said. “This is a very deep region from top to bottom. It makes for an interesting season. I told our kids, there’s been a lot of talk about the region. It’s a very strong region, but everybody has to show up and play.
“Football’s not a beauty contest. We’re not going to win the eye test. But we’ll continue to work our kids out and be strong and work on our mental capacity to be able to handle adversity. We’ve got to show up and do our job. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s on us to get it done.”
The Rebels plan to play a spring game at McKenzie. The one part of the schedule that’s not finalized is a jamboree game in Week 0 on Aug. 21, but the coach said that is close to being set.
The season opens Aug. 28 at home against Kinston. In fact, three of the first four games are at Zion Chapel. Abbeville visits on Sept. 4. After a game at Elba on Sept. 11, the Rebels play host to Houston County.
A three-game road swing at Samson, G.W. Long and Ariton follows.
The regular season ends with Cottonwood at home on Oct. 16, a game at Geneva County on Oct. 23 and a home game against Pleasant Home on Oct. 30.
2020 Zion Chapel Football Schedule» Aug. 28 — Kinston, home
» Sept. 4 — Abbeville, home
» Sept. 11 — Elba, A
» Sept. 18 — Houston County, H
» Sept. 25 — Samson, A
» Oct. 2 — G.W. Long, A
» Oct. 9 — Ariton, A
» Oct. 16 — Cottonwood, H
» Oct. 23 — Geneva County, A
» Oct. 30 — Pleasant Home, H