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By JOEL COLEMAN
ACKERMAN â€“ In just a yearâ€™s time, the Ackerman Indians have gone from the depths of the valley to the brink of the Class 2A, Region 2 mountaintop.
After a sluggish start Friday night, Ackerman regrouped and defeated J.Z. George 35-0, guaranteeing the Indians a first-round home playoff game and setting up a showdown against Hamilton next week that will determine the district champion.
For a team that finished with a 1-10 overall record a season ago, itâ€™s all quite the dramatic turn of events for Ackerman and head coach Adam Dillinger.
Yet the Indians leader says no one is celebrating anything just yet.
â€śWe can reflect on everything after the season,â€ť said Dillinger. â€śWeâ€™re going to try to win the division next week and then take a week of the playoffs at the time and try to get better. At the end, we can reflect and pat ourselves on the back, but weâ€™ve still got a lot of work to do right now.â€ť
Ackerman (7-3 overall, 4-0 in Region 2-2A) was able to assure itself of at least the No. 2 seed from the division, despite a less-than-stellar beginning Friday against J.Z. George (0-10 overall, 0-4 in Region 2-2A).
The Indians fumbled inside the Jaguarsâ€™ 5-yard line on the opening possession of the contest and, despite recording a safety on J.Z. Georgeâ€™s ensuing drive, raised a few red flags for Dillinger.
â€śWe didnâ€™t come out and play like we should have,â€ť said Dillinger. â€śTurning the ball over, we canâ€™t do that. Weâ€™ve got to play cleaner than that.
â€śI donâ€™t think we came out with as much effort as we needed to and weâ€™ve got to fix that.â€ť
Ackerman junior fullback/defensive lineman Alex Foust said the Indians recognized they werenâ€™t performing up to expectations, but vowed his team would work to correct the miscues.
â€śWe came into this game pretty lazy,â€ť said Foust. â€śWe had some mistakes and penalties, but weâ€™re going to clean that up.â€ť
The Indians righted their ship late in the first quarter and into the second quarter.
Sporting its 2-0 lead, Ackerman found the end zone for the first time on a Dakota Brasher 1-yard run with 4:48 remaining in the opening period.
The Indians scored three more times in the second quarter, stretching their lead to 29-0 courtesy of two Brasher touchdown passes â€“ one to Quinton Lane and one to Lavonte Miller â€“ and a K.J. Woods short-yardage scoring run.
Dillinger was proud Ackerman gave itself some breathing room prior to halftime.
â€śWe were glad to see that and go ahead and get a comfortable lead,â€ť said Dillinger. â€ś(Ackerman punter Roman Ramirez) had a couple of really good pooch kicks and one of them set up a turnover and that helped us out a bunch. We were able to stretch things out right before the half and that was big.â€ť
The Indians capped the nightâ€™s scoring late in the fourth quarter on a 30-yard run by Brody Hines.
When time expired, Ackerman could officially set its sights on next weekâ€™s showdown on the road against Hamilton, a squad that beat East Webster 52-7 on Friday.
â€śTheyâ€™re beatable,â€ť said Foust of Hamilton. â€śThey are very good, but theyâ€™re very beatable.
â€śWeâ€™re in a position where we are mentally ready. Weâ€™ve just got to get our stuff together and go play them.â€ť
Dillinger is looking forward to the challenge and opportunity that awaits his Indians in Hamilton.
â€śItâ€™s time now,â€ť said Dillinger. â€śWeâ€™ve got to get ready and try to win it. Thereâ€™s always a big difference between being No. 1 and No. 2 (in the division). We need to go and do what we can to try and finish first.
â€śYou want to win all the championships you can and the region is the first one.â€ť