ACA Travels to Bibb County in Battle of Class 4A’s Top Teams
The high school football regular season is only about half-finished, but Friday's matchup between American Christian Academy and Bibb County will have a playoff feel.
The Patriots, ranked No. 1 in Class 4A in this week's Alabama Sports Writers Association poll, are scheduled to travel 40 minutes down I-82 to play their regional opponent, the No. 2-ranked Choctaws.
ACA had a bye week last week due to Sumter Central's season being canceled, but it didn't use all of its extra time on preparing for Bibb County. Instead, the team started off by shoring up its tackling and other fundamentals, knowing the magnitude of this game.
ACA coach Chris Smelley also knows that Bibb County running back Deshun Murrell is one of the best players his Patriots will face this season.
Murrell, a UCLA commit, has 756 rushing yards in just three games this season and is averaging more than 11 yards per carry. The 6-foot, 190-pound senior has 15 total touchdowns, and his most recent 40-yard dash time was in the 4.5s.
"He's got great long speed, but he's also just big and strong and can run through tackles and run around tackles," Smelley said. "When you go and try to tackle a back like Deshun, it's an all-hands-on-deck approach."
Courtesy of a 3.9 GPA and being voted vice president of his class, Murrell also earned Ivy League offers from Princeton and Yale and Power Five offers from Nebraska, Duke, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Vanderbilt and more.
"He's a super kid," Bibb County coach Matt Geohagan said. "He's a super young man, just a great kid to be around."
ACA boasts a strong rushing attack of its own, led by senior Brandon Waller. After tearing his hamstring and missing much of last season, Waller made a stronger commitment to the team this year, Smelley said, and has run for more than 500 yards and just below 10 yards per carry in the Patriots' three games.
They also have a strong passing attack, led by quarterbacks Hunter Sute, a pocket-passing senior, and sophomore Sawyer Deerman, a dual-threat sophomore who recently earned scholarship offers from Tennessee, Maryland and Ole Miss.
Sute throws about twice as many passes as Deerman and completes more than 67% of them, but Deerman can be dangerous on the ground, averaging more than 6 yards per carry.
Bibb County is known for its physical defense, and it will be hard-pressed to contain the Patriots' balanced attack.
[Sute] does a really good job of getting the ball out of his hands and into the playmakers' hands that are around him," Geohagan said. "So we've gotta do a really good job of making sure that we pressure him and don't allow him just to sit there and let him pick us apart.
"Whenever they bring in [Deerman], when we do bring pressure, we still gotta make sure we're gap-sound and in our lanes, because he can beat you with his feet."
Friday's game is a rematch of the last two regular-season finales, when the Choctaws were still in Class 5A. ACA beat Bibb County 34-15 at home in 2018 to cap an undefeated regular season, but Bibb County got its revenge last season, winning a battle of two 9-0 teams with a 14-0 shutout.
Murrell had 163 yards and both Bibb County touchdowns in last year's win. ACA, which threw six interceptions, was shut out despite averaging more than 50 points per game.
Other key players in Friday's game include ACA's Cam Jeffery and Kamari Lassiter, the team's top two receivers who also start in the secondary. Lassiter has a scholarship offer from Alabama. Senior linebacker Blake Smith has also done a good job as the team's defensive signal-caller, Smelley said.
Geohagan praised his entire offensive line, especially seniors J.H. Watkins at center and Landon Kinard at left tackle.
"No. 1 vs. No. 2 is something you don't see happen a lot," Smelley said. "... There's a lot on the line."