Sure, it’s only the fourth week of the season, but the ninth-ranked Lions and Golden Eagles are the only 3-0 teams in Class 4A, Region 5 and the only teams unbeaten in region play.
In all likelihood, Munford and Jacksonville will play the game that will make the difference in winning a region championship tonight at Munford, and try wrapping the brain around that.
Try figuring how far Jacksonville, which hasn’t won a region title since 1999, and Munford, which hasn’t won one since 1992, came in a short span.
It’s only been two years since Jacksonville’s last losing season and three since Munford’s. Since the turn of the century, they’ve combined for 20 losing seasons and three playoff appearances, two for Munford and one for Jacksonville.
They’ve combined for 13 seasons with three or fewer victories over that span, including’s Munford’s winless 2003 and 1-9 finish in 2008.
Yet here they are in 2013, likely deciding a region that includes Alexandria, Anniston, Cherokee County, Cleburne County, Hokes Bluff and Lincoln.
The obvious question becomes, how did Jacksonville and Munford rise to the level of playing what now appears to be the area’s 4A game of the year?
The answer is an old story. It involves a strong crop of athletes at both schools, timed with the hiring of coaches who could get more of them out for football then coach them.
Enter players such as Jacksonville’s Jackson Bell, Dominique Thomas and Sid Thurmond, to name a few.
Enter Munford’s Monteo Garrett, Tavon Lawson and Calvin Smith, to name a few.
Then enter fourth-year Munford coach Will Wagnon, the offensive coordinator for Cherokee County’s 4A championship team of 2009.
Enter second-year Jacksonville coach Clint Smith. He coached winning teams in four of his final five years at Saks, which had nine straight losing seasons before that and 24 from 1977 on.
They came to hungry programs. The process for turning out happy programs was quick.
“I’ve always thought that Jacksonville was a good place with an opportunity to be successful,” said Smith, whose 47-man roster includes about 10 players who predated him at Jacksonville. “We came in and just kind of tried to bring our own style, our own flavor to things and get the kids out and get the kids believing in what we’re doing.”
So far, so good.
After consecutive 2-8 seasons, the Golden Eagles finished 5-5 in 2012, Smith’s first season. They were headed for better before Thomas was lost to an injury, as they lost their final four games.
Jacksonville’s 3-0 start this season includes routs of Pleasant Valley, Hokes Bluff and Cherokee County.
“I think, in our heads now, we’ve seen ourselves do it, we know we can do it, and we just have to keep that mentality,” Thomas said.
Wagnon’s immediate impact came in roster numbers. Munford played its last game before his arrival with 18 players, but 60 came out for football after he was hired. The current roster counts 60.
Munford went 4-16 in the two seasons before Wagnon arrived and 3-7 in his first season. The Lions upped to 5-5 in 2011, his second season, and a breakthrough came in the finale at Cleburne County.
“Heflin was a playoff team, and we weren’t,” Wagnon said. “We were 4-5 at the time, and we were able the finish the season and win.
“I told the kids then, ‘Look, this is the only way you can finish with a win, unless you win a state championship.’ I told them, ‘If we win this ballgame, this could catapult us to something more.’”
Munford went 8-4 and two rounds deep in the playoffs in 2012. This season’s 3-0 start includes a 14-7 victory over then-No. 8 Cleburne County a week ago.
A 63-yard, Garrett-to-Lawson pass with 24 seconds left won it after a snap over the punter’s head helped Cleburne County to tie the game.
“The good thing about it is, we didn’t play up to our potential, but we still found a way to win the ballgame,” Wagnon said. “Cleburne County probably had a lot to do with making us make the mistakes we were making, but, still, I think we’ve got a much higher level that we can play up to.”
Playing at unthinkable levels got Munford and Jacksonville to tonight’s high-stakes game.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.