Dothan head football coach Smitty Grider wants Rip Hewes Stadium to become one of the most fearsome high school stadiums in the state for opposing teams.
The first opportunity for Wolves fans to make it a howling stadium of noise comes tonight when Dothan plays its first home game in program history at Rip Hewes. The Wolves face the Wetumpka Indians. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
“We are excited about that,” Grider said of the home opener. “We need a big crowd. I want Rip Hewes to be the best home field advantage in the state and that starts with the fans. We need them to be there in full force and be loud. Not only the coaches, but the kids are excited to get to play at home (for the first time).”
Dothan opened its new era last week, falling to Class 6A No. 4 Clay-Chalkville 37-14 at Thompson High School’s Warrior Stadium in Alabaster.
While there were plenty of mistakes last week, Grider was also encouraged by some things after watching the tape of the game.
“The things we did well we feel we can build on,” Grider said.
The Wolves, behind early mistakes, fell behind 16-0, but rallied back with a strong second quarter to pull within 16-14 at halftime. However, more mistakes in the second half combined with a strong Clay-Chalkville defense helped the Cougars pull away.
“The way we ran the ball in the second quarter and really dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides,” Grider responded when asked about positives from the opener. “We have to build on that. We have to learn, though, to get off to a better start at the beginning of the game and at the half.”
Among the mistakes, Dothan had five turnovers, including a muffed kick return that resulted in a safety plus a negative punt that set up Clay-Chalkville with good field position for a scoring drive.
“We need to be more consistent and play a complete game,” Grider said. “We have to find a way to win games instead of finding a way to lose them. That is a challenge when you are putting something new together.
“These kids haven’t had a ton of success in the recent past, so they have to learn how to win. We have the talent to do it.”
The schedule doesn’t get any easier this week with Wetumpka, a state semifinalist the last two years and a state finalist in 2016. The Indians opened the season last week with a 35-24 win over Class 7A No. 10-ranked Fairhope last week.
“The goal is to get to the region and win the region and these early games are there to prepare us for the region,” Grider said. “Hopefully we will get a better outcome (tonight) and we will grow from where we were last week.”
Wetumpka’s offense is led by talented 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior quarterback Tyquan Rawls. In the season-opening win over Fairhope, he completed 9-of-19 passes for 157 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 126 yards and another TD on 14 carries. He directed two fourth-quarter scores to help the Indians fight off a 24-22 deficit.
“Their quarterback is their guy,” Grider said. “He was a finalist for (state) 6A Back of the Year last year. Everything they do offensively runs through him. He is a big, strong athletic kid. He can throw it and run it. He will challenge for us defensively.
“You will not completely stop him from making plays. You have to try and limit how many of those happen and keep him contained.”
But he is far from the only standout for Wetumpka, which rushed for 4,000 yards last season. Terrance Thomas, who had more than 1,000 yards in rushing yards last season, returns as the top running back and Josh Allen is another key back. At wide receiver, Jaleel Johnson caught six passes for 99 yards and Malik Davis caught five passes for 64 yards last week.
“They have a good running back,” Grider said. “Their offensive line does a good job. Their offense is tough to handle. They have got weapons everywhere. They are all good players and coach (Tim) Perry does a good job with their offense. It will be a challenge.”
Grider said the Indians are also sound on defense.
“They are big and strong up front,” Grider said. “They have some D-lineman that can run. Their linebackers are physical.”
Wetumpka also showed off talent in the special teams too last week as Davis returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown and kicker Alexander Lindoll hit a 28-yard field goal.
Grider said the Wolves, as they did last week, plan to play both Jamal Lane and Bauer Sharp at quarterback. Lane accounted for both scores last week, throwing a 4-yard TD pass to Jabre Barber and rushing for a 5-yard TD run.
Defensively, Dothan’s top two tacklers last week were Preston Whitaker and Myron Bell.