The 2020 Arab football team has had a game delayed by weather and then postponed one day by weather, and then the very next week had a game moved up a day because of the threat of even worse weather.
And that was just the first two weeks after it seemed much of the summer there wouldn’t be any games.
There has been a COVID-19 forfeit win, and a made up game that didn’t count (just last week).
There have been great victories and brutally tough defeats. There were key losses at quarterback early on that slowed the team’s progress but didn’t stop it.
This has been one crazy high school football season – and let’s be honest, the Knights’ season has been practically normal compared to what many other teams across the state have gone through, all because of the pandemic.
But whatever the path this group of football players has taken, it’s all been leading to this week’s game, moved up yet again to tonight because of the threat of more bad weather.
(Brindlee Mountain, which lost last week to Geraldine, 48-6, also had its 3A, Region 7 game at Asbury moved to tonight.)
This week’s game is the one every Arab football fan has been thinking about since the current realignment was announced late last year. Not only did Arab move up from Class 5A to 6A, it dropped into the same region (7) as this week’s opponent: defending state champion and current Class 6A No. 1 Oxford.
“We can’t compete with Oxford,” was a commonly heard statement around here back then.
And Oxford has done nothing this season to negate that feeling. Oxford’s lone blemish this season came in the first week, at Thompson.
That’s Thompson, as in Class 7A unanimous No. 1 Thompson.
Oxford did have a scare the very next week, edging Pleasant Grove on the road, 29-28.
That’s Pleasant Grove, as in Class 5A No. 1 Pleasant Grove (see complete state rankings on page 2B).
Since then, it has been all easy wins for the Yellow Jackets, including three region victories. They and Fort Payne sit atop the Region 7 standings at 3-0.
After that, it’s a crap shoot. Arab (4-3, 2-2 Region 7) has a chance still to make the playoffs, even if it loses tonight, but it would take a deep dive into every region opponents’ results and remaining schedule to figure that out.
Suffice to say, a win tonight would make the Knights’ path to the playoffs much clearer, remarkable considering they lost their top two quarterbacks by the end of the first week and then lost their first two region games.
But if anyone knows how difficult winning tonight will be, it’s Arab coach Lee Ozmint. He was an assistant there before coming to Arab last year. He knows how good Oxford is, both the team and many of the individual players.
He’s seen them up close. And he has nothing but respect for them.
“You could see them coming on,” Ozmint said.
The Yellow Jackets made it to the third round of the playoffs in each of the final two years Ozmint was there.
“Great, great players and great people, too,” he said, naming several off the top of his head.
Ozmint won’t say Arab doesn’t stand a chance, noting that in football, “anything can happen.”
But he also said this: No one Arab has played this year or last year is in the same class as Oxford.
“If we play up to our standard, it won’t matter what the scoreboard says,” Ozmint said. “To be honest, I wish there hadn’t been a scoreboard last week, either.”
Last week was a game of no consequence for the Knights but the opponent was Class 2A Locust Fork, subbing for region foe Pell City, which had to forfeit. Arab jumped on the Hornets early, taking a 21-0 lead in the first 12 minutes and 43 seconds.
Then, according to Ozmint, the players let up and began making some of the same mistakes they’ve been making and essentially playing down to the level of their competition.
“I want these guys to play to a standaard, and we did that in the first quarter,” said Ozmint, who praised his players for just that the week before in a 42-7 blowout win at Brewer.
Even though Arab led Locust Fork at the half, 49-7, and went on to win 49-27 with a running clock in the second half, Ozmint wasn’t pleased with some of his starters in the second quarter.
Locust Fork scored less than two minutes after Arab went up 21-0, and the Hornets were driving again later in the quarter when Arab was leading 35-7.
But an interception and 99-yard return for a touchdown by Hayden O’Reilly with 2:32 left in the half broke the Hornets’ back. Quarterback Aidan Cox then tossed his third TD pass of the half, this one 17-yard to Spencer Strickland, to make it 49-7 with 16.6 seconds left in the half.
Cox also hit John Wesson Johnson with a 23-yard pass to open the scoring, then tossed one 8 yards to Mathew Turnage for another score.
Turnage also scored on runs of 1, 9 and 39 yards.
On Monday, the Arab JV team fell to Albertville 20-8 to end its season 4-1.
Aeron Mitchell scored the TD and Gabe Norton caught a pass from Dylan Morrow for the two point conversion.