Eufaula's Kendrick Dennis
The purple and gold Tigers of Fairfield High School (5-5) will roll into Eufaula tonight to take on the 12th ranked Eufaula Tigers (8-2) in the first round of the state playoffs. This is a record straight fifth appearance in the post season for Fairfield.
There are a lot of new faces on the field as starters for the West Alabama bunch as they graduated the winningest senior class in the history of Fairfield football last year. They will take on the winningest senior class in Eufaula history.
Fairfield sent players to Grambling, Samford, Alabama A&M, Jacksonville State, Stillman and West Alabama after graudation last year. This has been a rebuilding year for Coach Jim Vakakes, and the future looks even brighter than the present.
This is a rematch of the second round playoff game from last year, where Eufaula prevailed 34-7. Fairfield faced an undefeated Eufaula squad in 2006.
Coach Dan Klages had to replace the talented Jerrel Jernigan at quarterback and has seen a little more struggle than last season. They come in with losses to 6A Central Phenix City and region opponent Charles Henderson who is undefeated thus far.
These two coaches have a lot of respect for each other and their programs. Coach Vakakes is quick to bring up the subject of last year's star, Jernigan. He wanted to mention what a great game the freshman for Troy had against SEC powerhouse Georgia last week. In fact, he sounded just as enthusiastic as Coach Klages did about the talented young man.
Jernigan scored two touchdowns from his wide receiver position and posted over 100 yards receiving.
Fairfield has a senior quarterback who is a key for this game in Jarius McFarland.
Coach Vakakes says of McFarland, "He's a playmaker. He can turn nothing into something or something into even more. He's accepted the leadership role, and I really think he is going to play well."
"I know they've got some monsters on defense, and they may stop him. But we are going to put the ball in his hands. There is no secret on that. It's not brain surgery or rocket science."
Certainly, this is not lost on Klages either. "Their quarterback is the key. That's the case with any team, but especially with Fairfield. He does an outstanding job running and throwing it. Throwing it on the run. If he did one or the other it would be one thing, but he can do them both."
"They do a great job scheme-wise. They use the whole field. They do some things different than we normally see with their option game out of the gun. They run several formations. They give you several different looks and give you problems lining up taking advantage of mismatches or just a misalignment where you don't have anybody and run where you are not."
"It's going to be a challenge. Our defensive coordinator has had his hands full this week trying to get ready for that."
Fairfield has Larius Houston is a running back. The junior has elusive speed and is recovering from a shoulder injury earlier this year.
"We call him Firecracker," Vakakes said. "He's a pleasure to be around. Very quiet kid. He hangs around with Mike (Robinson) all the time. Mike does all the talking and Larius does all the listening."
Robinson is a junior wideout and free-safety. "If Mike continues to work hard he could be a big timer next year," Vakakes said.
Look for Farifield to have dual punt returners in Jerromy Mardis and Thompson.
Mardis has been a big part of the winning at Fairfield in his career. Vakakes says of the senior, "He makes things happen. He's a tough kid, a leader all year. Friday night he's wide open."
Malcolm Davis at 6-1, 245 pounds is a leader on the offensive line.
Defensively, Bradley Harper at linebacker, Brandon Towles at defensive tackle and Reggie Holmes at nose guard will be called on in tonight's game.
"Holmes is quick as a hiccup," Vakakes said. "Harper is having an outstanding year. He has gotten better each week. He will be one of our leaders on defense next year for sure. He runs very well to the ball, and he's highly intelligent. Seriously, he's brilliant."
"He looks at me sometimes, and I say, "can you understand my stupid language because I know I'm not on your level." He's just a sophomore."
Kendrick Henderson plays linebacker, but has been injured and may not see much time against Eufaula.
Eufaula has a lot of talent including division one Alabama commitment Courtney Upshaw, running backs Xavier Crews and Chris Williams, and linebacker Saterro Hardy and cornerback Desmond Thomas.
The most talented Tigers stay on the field most of the game and Upshaw and cornerback/wide receiver Kendrick Dennis are two of those.
"Kendrick played 86 snaps last week, not including special teams," Klages said. "We felt like he had the potential to be our go-to guy. He's our leading receiver. He has 18 receptions for 476 yards, and that's quiet an average (26.4 yards per catch)."
"That's right up there with the top three receivers we’ve had over the last 15 years. He is also averaging between 15-20 yards per return on punts."
Eufaula is solid on it's kicking game, and they work on it every day.
"A lot of it comes down to having athletes. Hopefully we can take advantage of that somewhere (Friday)."
Fairfield has a freshman long snapper Willie Young and punter Marcus Saltmarch.
"That's unheard of in 5A football to have a freshman duo," Vakakes said.
Defensively for Eufaula, Courtney Upshaw stands out. This is one of the monsters Vakakes mentions. With that reputation he brings a lot of attention his way.
"They are running a lot of stuff away from him, and he's having a little tougher time statistically. He is doubled up most of the time," Klages said.
"Courtney plays tight end too. We don't run a tight end all the time, but he's our man. He's our second leading receiver with 17 catches for 250 yards."
Eufaula's quarterback, Zach Brown, has had some big shoes to fill. Klages is enthusiastic about the future for Brown.
"I just think the sky is the limit for him," he said. "He's got all kinds of physical talents. I know it sounds silly, but I can't wait for the future because he is just going to continue to get better and better."
"He's going to go to camps and learn from the best, and do everything he can to improve. He's got really good speed and a strong enough arm that will take him where he needs to go. He's our leading rusher also."
Eufaula vs. Fairfield 7PM kickoff.
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