Dothan head coach Smitty Grider has a message for Wolves football fans.
“We just need everybody to get the Peanut Festival done and show up Friday night loud and support these kids,” Grider said Wednesday afternoon of his team’s Class 6A first-round state playoff game against Spanish Fort.
The 6A, Region 2 champion Wolves (8-2) face the Region 1 No. 4 seed Toros (5-4) Friday night at Rip Hewes Stadium.
While the Toros only have a 5-4 record, two losses have come to No. 1 state ranked teams (7A McGill-Toolen and 6A Saraland). A week ago, they led Saraland before losing in the final minute, 17-16.
Dothan is playing a state playoff game in its first year after the consolidation of Dothan and Northview. Only a few players are on roster from the last city playoff team, the 2016 Dothan Tigers.
“It is a great step for our program in the first year to win the region and host a playoff game,” Grider said. “But this isn’t our goal for the season. It is not just to get in. We want to be a contender for the championship.”
The Toros, meanwhile, are no stranger to the postseason with a 36-7 playoff record over their 14-year history, highlighted by four state titles (2010, 2012, 2013, 2015). This is the 12th straight postseason for Spanish Fort, which has won 78 percent of its games in school history (141-41).
“This isn’t your typical four seed,” Grider said. “That entire region down there is tough. The top five teams could have won most regions in the state. This Spanish Fort team is very talented, well-coached and they have got a lot of tradition. They are going to be tough, especially for a first-round match-up.”
The Toros have three major college prospects in Kris Abrams-Draine, a wide receiver turned quarterback who has committed to Ole Miss, outside linebacker Christian Burkhalter, a junior, and defensive tackle Carlos Johnson, a South Alabama commitment.
“He is very athletic,” Grider of said of quarterback Abrams-Draine. “He makes a lot of plays. They move him outside the pocket. They have a solid offensive line that does a good job of opening holes for him and for their running game. They like to run the football, but they do have a couple of tall receivers that pose an issue too.
“On the defensive side, they got a D-lineman (Johnson) that is a Division-I guy that has some offers. They have a linebacker (Burkhalter) that has got an Ohio State offer. I mean they are talented. They are very physical on defense. They try to stop your running game and force you to throw it to beat them.”
The Wolves enter with a six-game winning streak after a 2-2 start. The 8-2 record has surprised many in the state after seeing Dothan and Northview struggle in recent years.
Grider, though, said it is not a shock to him and his coaching staff.
“I don’t think I would characterize it as surprising,” Grider said. “We felt all along we had a chance to have a good football team. We didn’t know how it would play out, but we felt if we developed liked we thought we could that we would have a successful year.
“Now, we didn’t set a goal to be 8-2, 9-1, 10-0, 7-3 or whatever. Our goals were to win every game and we went into every game with the mindset we were going to win every game. Then it was to win the region, host the first round and go deep in the playoffs.
“I’m pleased, especially since we have gotten better every week and we have improved. That was one of the goals — to be better this week than last week — and we have done that throughout the year and that is still our goal.”
With quarterback Jamal Lane, running backs Ty Webb and Jalen White plus all-around athlete Jabre Barber, Wolves coaches felt good about the offense going into the season. The defense was bit of a question mark, but has developed into a solid group.
“We knew we had some talented skill players and offensively we had a chance to be really good,” Grider said. “Defensively, we were inexperienced and we needed our offense to play well early to give our defense time to grow. That is kind of what happened.
“We have played well on offense all year and our defense has gotten better and better every week. They are playing really well right now and are peaking at the right time.”
After allowing 185 points in the first five games (37.0 a game), the Wolves have given up only 74 in the last five games (14.8 per game).
Preston Whitaker (66 tackles) and Myron Bell (59) are the leading tacklers and T.J. Lewis has been a force in the backfield with 13 tackles for losses, including three quarterback sacks. Jaylin Faison (51 tackles), Donald Glenn (47 tackles), Tay Ramey (41 tackles), Kolby Reese (35 tackles, three interceptions) and Kameron Dawsey (four interceptions) have been other top defensive contributors.
Offense, though, has been Dothan’s most consistent unit. The Wolves, sixth in Class 6A in points per game (36.9), have been directed by Lane, a senior quarterback who has thrown for 1,495 yards with 19 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He also has rushed for 369 yards and five scores.
Webb has earned 855 yards rushing and four TDs and White 663 with eight scores as Dothan averages 222.2 yards a game on the ground.
Barber has been an overall threat. He is the leading receiver with 38 catches for 619 yards and nine touchdowns and also rushed for 118 yards on just 33 carries (11.8 per carry) with four TDs and returned two kickoffs and one punt for a touchdown. He has amassed 411 yards off 15 kick returns (27.4 yard average) and 127 yards off five punt returns (25.4 average).
Friday’s winner faces the Bessemer City-Wetumpka winner next week. If Dothan wins, it will host Bessemer City or travel to Wetumpka. If Spanish Fort wins, it plays host to the winner.
Gates for the game open at 5 p.m. Security wanding will take place outside the gate after tickets are purchased. Wolf Passes are not accepted for playoff games and there is no reserved seating.
Grider hopes a lot of Dothan fans are present to support the players, who have overcome the consolidation to earn a state playoff berth.
“They have done a great job of setting an example for everybody of how to come together, bringing everybody together as one and represent One City, One Team,” Grider said. “We need this city to get behind them because it is going to be a tough one. Our fans could be the difference Friday night.”