By Don Wallace

ALTO — It’s a case of two teams on a collision course.

Alto and Joaquin want the same prize, a big win in the Class 1A football playoffs, but only one team will get it.

The teams meet at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Class 1A quarterfinals in Tatum.

The Jackets are in the roles of the favorites. Alto, ranked No. 1 in the state all year, come into the game with an 11-0 record. They have the state’s longest winning streak at 25 dating back to 2006. The Jackets are the defending state champions.

Alto had to hustle, fight and claw Saturday to get a 21-13 win over old rival Groveton on a slick track in Lufkin.

But Alto head coach Keith Gardner thinks the close battle with Groveton might have been good for his team and will help them focus of Joaquin.

Alto went through the regular season winning by an average margin of 46-5.

“Having a close game like we did against Groveton can only help us,” Gardner said. “This game with Joaquin will be the same thing, it will be a war. We are expecting them to come out and play us very tight,” Gardner said.

In the win over Groveton, Alto had to rely on its running game due to game conditions of wind and rain.

Tarlandus Mitchell not only ran the offense from the quarterback position, but rushed the ball very effectively with 23 carries for 95 yards and two scores.

Marcuse Gasaway had 13 carries for 145 yards and also returned a kickoff 85 yards for a score.

For the year, Mitchell has 882 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns and Gasaway is averaging more than 10 yards a carry, racking up 1,368 yards and 20 scores.

Joaquin, 10-2, advanced to meet Alto by taking a 52-25 over Wolfe City.

In that win, Patrick Gandy ran 17 times for 200 yards and three scores while Brad Lawrence had 122 yards rushing on just seven attempts.

For the year, Eric Permenter has 1,812 yards and two touchdowns; Gandy has 1,802 yards and 29 touchdowns while Lawrence has rushed for 568 yards and four scores.

The Rams’ defense was sparked by Dustin Youngblood with 11 tackles.

For the year, Joaquin has allowed an average of 276 yards per game. The Rams offense is averaging 430 yards per outing.

Alto is averaging 450 yards per game, while allowing 129.2 yards an outing.

Top tacklers for the Jackets are linebackers Lance Low with 73 and Clayton Scott with 71.

“Joaquin runs the ball about 85 percent of the time. They want to run, they’re patient. We have to be able to slow them down,” Gardner said.

The Rams use a 4-3 formation on defense and operate from 1-back double tight end look on offense.

“We’re bumped and bruised after last week. But know what is on the line. We’ll come and play hard,” Gardner said.

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