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FDA faces tough test in Monroe

The Fort Dale Academy Eagles have cleared many hurdles this season, but perhaps the biggest lies ahead for senior night this Friday as the Eagles host the Monroe Academy Volunteers.

The Volunteers, 7-1, are the sole remaining undefeated team in Class 3A Region 2.  The team’s one loss comes to Bessmer Academy, a team with legitimate claims as the most dominant in the AISA. 

For FDA head football coach James “Speed” Sampley, dethroning the Volunteers as the team to beat is doable, but not easy by any stretch.

“They basically have the same skill people they had last year,” Sampley said.

“They’re just a year older.  And then, most of their linemen graduated, but the ones playing for them this year are pretty good, too.  They’re solid on defense, they’re well coached and they don’t do anything to beat themselves.  If you don’t do that, a lot of the times you’re going to win just by not making mistakes.  So they’re a very good football team.”

Fort Dale is doing similarly well this year, with only a single loss to region opponent Pike Liberal Arts.  And the Eagles have found success largely by controlling one of football’s least-appreciated statistics—time of possession.

“I think that’s the key to success for us, that we possess the ball as much as possible,” Sampley said. “If we’ve got it, they can’t score.  We don’t have a lot of explosive speed on this football team, so we’re going to have to grind it out to be successful offensively, anyway. 

“The great thing about it is that if you do grind it out and you don’t make mistakes, you can burn the clock up so that the other team doesn’t have time to do a whole lot.”

And a grind is what the Eagles can expect from this point forward.  The next two games will determine Fort Dale’s overall fate, and there are a number of permutations, given the competitive nature of the Eagles’ region.

“We’re in the playoffs, but we don’t have any idea where we’re going to be,” Sampley said. “Everybody in our region has two games left.  And with the exception of Monroe, everybody has at least one loss.  So if Monroe wins out, they’re obviously region champions.  If we win out, we’re the region champions.  But there’s a lot of things that can happen—we can be anywhere from first to fourth in the next two weeks.  We just know we’re in.”

Like many smaller teams in the state, injury management has been a crucial part of the Eagles’ success this season.  Though two notable injuries—including a broken foot and a PCL injury—leave two players sidelined, the Eagles have remained otherwise remarkably healthy this season.

For Sampley, their final spot in the playoffs is largely irrelevant, as long as the Eagles continue to improve.

“If you had an option, you probably wouldn’t want to be in a bracket with Bessemer, since they have been dominant for the past few years,” Sampley said. “But, quite honestly, if you’re in, you have a chance to win.  So we’ll see where we fall and we’ll play whomever they assign us to play. 

“I don’t think that there is a hands-down, dominant 3A team in the AISA. Bessemer, Lee-Scott, Glenwood and Pike have all played close games—we’ve all taken turns beating up on one another, so all we know is that we have to play these two region games out while the other teams do the same, and we’ll see where we fall.”