Is Montevallo football for real?

Published 12:12 pm Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Led by junior quarterback Zac Oden, Montevallo is 5-0 for the first time in over half a century, but can the Bulldogs make a postseason run? (Reporter Photo / Baker Ellis)

Led by junior quarterback Zac Oden, Montevallo is 5-0 for the first time in over half a century, but can the Bulldogs make a postseason run? (Reporter Photo / Baker Ellis)

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor

MONTEVALLO – This is a dilemma worth examining. Five weeks into the season, the football landscape across the county and across the state is beginning to take a defined shape. Five weeks into this thing, there are two teams left in the county that are undefeated. One of those is Chelsea at 4-0, which is a team that could have reasonably been expected to be in the position. The other is Montevallo (5-0), which is a team that deserves an examination.

The Bulldogs have struggled in recent years, that much is common knowledge. Andrew Zow has won more games as a head coach this season than in his first three years at the helm combined. Granted, three of last year’s victories were nullified due to an ineligible player issue that came up midway through the season, but the point remains. Let’s make a case for this team as a contender, and a case for this team as a pretender. First, the case for them as a contender.

This year, Montevallo has averaged the 10th-most points per game in class 4A through Sept. 19, posting an average of 36.8 points per game. The Bulldogs have also given up the fourth-fewest points per game of anyone in 4A, relinquishing just 12.8 points per game so far. That’s an average margin of victory of 24 points per game, which is tied for the fifth-highest margin of victory across the state in 4A.

Montevallo’s offensive success can be attributed directly to its skill players. Zac Oden has more experience as a junior quarterback than anyone else his age in the state, as he has started since his freshman season. He has thrown for 910 yards, 12 touchdowns and just one pick through five games and has come alive for Zow and the Bulldogs. Ahmad Edwards and Daqwan Bryant are just sophomore receivers, but were thrown into the fire last year as freshman on the varsity level and have had better sophomore campaigns as a result than anyone outside of the Montevallo locker room could have expected. The two have combined to catch nine of Oden’s 12 touchdown tosses and have gone for approximately 600 yards receiving as well.

On top of the work the passing game has done, Montevallo may have one of the most underrated rushers in the county in Undreaz Lilly. Through five games, Lilly has rushed for 342 yards on just 54 touches, good for an average of over 6 yards per carry, and has found the end zone six times on the ground as well. Lilly tips the scales at over 225 pounds and is a punishing back who becomes harder to tackle in the second half. Caleb Cottingham and Kerry Mack have also been more than serviceable in backup running back roles as well. This parity and balance between the rushing and passing attack, and the caliber of skill players to execute both, is reason enough for this Montevallo team to contend.

Now, on the flip side of the coin, this is the bad news. The five teams Montevallo has played to this point are a combined 7-16 through five games, and only one team the Bulldogs have played, Oak Grove, has eclipsed three wins through Sept. 19. The quality of Montevallo’s opponent to date has been less than stellar, which forces the accomplishments of this squad to date to be looked at in a skeptical light. Also working against the Bulldogs is the size of both the team in general and the offensive and defensive lines. Montevallo was the fourth-smallest school to earn a 4A classification in the 2014 reclassification, and subsequently has a roster dwarfed by many larger 4A schools. A smaller roster means more players see action on both sides of the ball, which means the Bulldogs are more susceptible to tiring in the second half, can be more prone to mental mistakes late in games, and are at risk for more injuries as well.

As far as the offensive line is concerned, the Bulldogs only have two lineman, Colin Gammon and Cory Cutts, who have the size to match up against bigger teams, as shown at times in Montevallo’s matchup with Sipsey Valley on Sept. 19, when Montevallo had trouble getting any push up front. The Bulldogs are scrappy across the front and have speed to match, but will have a tough time facing off against bigger teams should this group make a playoff run.

Bottom line. Part of the reason Montevallo has struggled in the past is actually the reason why this team is having success this season. From Oden to Edwards and Bryant to a defensive secondary rife with experienced younger players, the trials they went through as youngsters are helping them succeed this season. The real challenge for Montevallo however will come in back-to-back games against West Blocton and Bibb County on Oct. 2 and 10, and until that time, no judgment should be passed as to this teams’ postseason potential, but the Bulldogs have earned the right to be in the discussion, which is good enough for now.