Nov. 2—JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville has shown itself capable against top Class 4A competition this season, but can the Golden Eagles get over the top?
They might get another chance, in the playoffs.
Jacksonville (7-3) takes to the road Friday for its playoff opener at Bibb County (7-3). The winner will likely play top-ranked Catholic-Montgomery in the second round, and Jacksonville would play the Knights at home.
That tantalizing thought hangs there but must stay back of mind for now. What's knowable ahead of Jacksonville's playoff opener is that a capable team is about to take its shot against the brutal south half of the 4A playoff bracket.
"The south is loaded," Jacksonville coach Clint Smith said. "There's seven or eight teams that, if they get hot at the right time, can come out of the south and go to Auburn" for the Super 7.
The season's final Alabama Sports Writers Association poll has Jacksonville ranked No. 9 in 4A. Seven of the 10 ranked teams man a line in the 4A south bracket.
Jacksonville enters as third qualifier in Class 4A, Region 4, behind second-ranked Anniston and fourth-ranked Handley. Third and fourth qualifiers from each region open the playoffs on the road, but Calhoun County 3s and 4s from tough regions have a history of advancing in the playoffs.
Three teams from Calhoun County are No. 3 seeds, going on the road to play No. 2 seeds from other regions. Of those three, only Jacksonville has an ASWA ranking.
The Golden Eagles have the makings of a team that can advance in the playoffs, starting with an elite quarterback in Jim Ogle.
The junior has reported offers from UAB and Troy, and his junior season hasn't done anything to hurt his stock. He's completed 131 of 226 passes for 1,933 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushed for 243 yards and two touchdowns.
The rushing part of that equation reflects one of his most notable improvements this season.
"It definitely helps having a quarterback like Jim, being able to push the field," Smith said. "We've always got a chance to put the ball in the air and get down the field quickly when we need to.
"He gives us that and gives us a lot of play-making ability, and he's made a lot of plays with his legs this year, tucking it and running it and getting first downs."
Jacksonville also has an experienced offensive line, the same five who have started since 2020. They were the line that replaced the line that helped Ron Wiggins rush for 5,000-plus yards in two seasons.
X'zavarious Turner has emerged a strong ball carrier, with 972 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns and 10 catches for 129 yards and a score.
Ky'Dric Fisher leads the receiver group with 45 catches for 914 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has six 100-yard games, including 183 against Oxford this past Friday.
Dee Prothro (60 tackles; 22 for loss; 10 sacks), Ryan Mitchell (54 tackles; three for loss; two sacks; one interception) and Will Phillips (64 tackles; three for loss; three interceptions) lead the defense.
Kicker Mason Terrell kicked a field goal in the 2019 state championship game.
Maybe the biggest reason to believe that Jacksonville can advance is the level of competition the Golden Eagles have played all season. They beat Alexandria and Boaz, two Class 5A playoff teams. They scored 41 points on Handley and lost one-score games to Anniston (30-23) and Oxford (34-28), a No. 4 playoff seed in 6A, Region 6.
How close is Jacksonville to breaking through against the best of the best in 4A?
"I think we're real close," Ogle said. "In tough games, like Anniston or Handley, even last week with Oxford, a good 6A program, we've just had a couple of mistakes here and there, whether it be on offense, defense or special teams that have been costly mistakes that probably could've won or lost the ballgame.
"It's really just mental mistakes. If we can cut out those and just play a solid game throughout, I think we can become dangerous."
The Golden Eagles have to be dangerous at Bibb County to get the chance at Catholic-Montgomery. Should they reach the quarterfinals, Handley or sixth-ranked T.R. Miller could be waiting for them.
Anniston or fifth-ranked Andalusia would be the likeliest semifinal opponents.
"It's going to be a dogfight every week," Smith said. "It's which teams can stay healthy and which teams can get hot at the right time, but we've got our hands full (at Bibb County).
"It's a 2-3 matchup, but I think it's one of the better first-round games in the south. It's a tough task, but our guys have played good competition all year long. Maybe we'll be focused and play well and do what we have to do."
Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.