After two straight victories at Rip Hewes Stadium, the Dothan Wolves hit the road for three straight games, starting Thursday night at Montgomery’s Cramton Bowl against Park Crossing.
It will be Dothan’s first venture on the road since the season opener, but the first time at an opposing team’s home stadium. The Wolves played and lost to Clay-Chalkville at a neutral site of Thompson High School before winning the two home games.
“This game is big for the program as we try to make a run to win the region and make the playoffs,” Dothan head coach Smitty Grider said of the Class 6A, Region 3 game. “We have Russell County followed by Enterprise and all three places are tough to win at. This is a step we have to learn in building the program – how to win on the road.”
Not only is it a region game, but it also pits Grider against a program he directed just two seasons ago. The Wolves coach guided the Thunderbirds from 2014-17, amassing a 38-9 record highlighted by a state semifinal appearance in 2016.
The current Park Crossing seniors and juniors were sophomores and freshmen when Grider and current Wolves offensive coordinator Tim Gillespie were at the Montgomery school.
“I know a lot of those kids and about half of their coaching staff coached with me, including the head coach, the offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator, so there is a lot of familiarity there,” Grider said.
Grider said he hadn’t really thought much during the week about facing his old program.
“To be honest I hadn’t thought about it as I have been more concerned about preparing the team to play a game,” Grider said Wednesday afternoon in a Dothan Eagle interview after doing two local TV interviews. “I really hadn’t thought about it until all the media started asking questions. I am sure there will be some emotions when I see them. I know they will want to win as bad as I want to win.
“There are a lot of good memories at Park Crossing with the 2016 third-round last second win over Blount 54-51 topping the list. There are a lot of good people up there. I liked playing at Cramton Bowl as it is a great venue for high school football.
“But this game is about this team and not about me. It is about these guys trying to win a game on the road.”
While he is familiar with the Park Crossing players and coaches, he feels the familiarity also works the other way too, making it likely a wash-out.
“They know me and coach Gillespie and what we like to do, so they will be prepared,” said Grider, who added that the Thunderbirds have some schemes that are different than what he used two years ago, though some are similar.
While Dothan enters the game with a 2-1 record, the Thunderbirds enter with a deceptive 0-3 record, said Grider. The three losses have been by a combined 13 points.
“They are the best 0-3 football team in the state of Alabama if not the nation,” Grider said. “They lost some tough games to talented teams and not by much. They lost to (R.E.) Lee by seven points (7-0), lost in overtime to St. Paul’s by a point (27-26) and lost by five to Clay-Chalkville (19-14).
“They have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball and they have kids that have multiple D-I offers. They have a five-star defensive end that everyone is offering. They have a lot of athletes. It will be a tough challenge for us.”
The teams have played one common opponent – Clay-Chalkville. The Wolves lost 37-14 at a neutral site, though it was 16-14 at halftime, while the Thunderbirds lost at home 19-14.
“Clay-Chalkville runs a lot of similar formations that we run so it does gives us an idea of what they (Park Crossing) might do defensively,” Grider said. “Offensively, they (the Thunderbirds) do what they do, but sometimes they have struggled with penalties and mistakes. I hope they don’t put it together (tonight).”
The Wolves enter the game as the fifth-highest scoring team in Class 6A in Alabama at 39 points a game, but the defense ranks 49th out of 54 teams in points allowed, giving up 38.7 per contest.
Grider feels the Wolves’ defense has played well in spurts, especially in the last two weeks. Two weeks ago, Dothan had state-ranked Wetumpka shut out until the final minute of the first half before breaking down in the second half. Last week, it held high-scoring Eufaula to seven points through most of the first half, but a kick return and a turnover helped give the Tigers momentum.
“We have to play a complete game,” Grider said. “We played mostly good first halves in the last two games, but we have got to extend that to the whole game. We have to take what we do in practice and implant that in the game. It is a matter of execution during the game.”