Brandon Price

Brandon Price became Mount Zion's quarterback after a 31-6 loss to Taylorville on Sept. 25 and the Braves hope he makes a difference in the rematch in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs tonight.

Brandon Price's phone lit up with a text from coach Mike Popovich.

Popovich and his Mount Zion coaching staff went right back to the drawing board, literally off the bus and into their office, immediately after returning from Taylorville on Sept. 25. The Braves were rocked by a 31-6 loss.

They put everything on the table, including the status of quarterback JJ Aldridge. Price, then a wide receiver, quickly knew which way that was going.

"Later that night, he texted me about it and said I'd get about 50 percent of the reps," Price said. "Then, he brought me and JJ in at the same time (Monday) and we talked about it ... It was hard to get me the ball that game actually. I was honestly pretty excited."

By Monday, 50 percent turned into close to 100 percent. Price was the new starting quarterback for the Charleston game.

In four games at quarterback, Price is 63-of-89 for 820 yards and eight touchdowns. Running, he has gained 476 yards and scored eight more times.

"We did it with a few select plays at the beginning and kept adding every week," Price said. "We've put everything in (now)."

Price and the Braves (6-3) get to show Taylorville (9-0) what kind of team they've become with a new quarterback. The Apollo rivals meet for a rematch at 7 p.m. today in Taylorville in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs.

"Very rarely do you get another opportunity," Popovich said. "In other sports, you're playing some home and away and run into them in a tournament at Christmas. You have a lot of different shots. That's not the case in football."

The Braves are 3-1 since they made the change at quarterback, suffering back-to-back losses leading up to the decision. 

Price, who hadn't played quarterback since he was a freshman, filled in fine.

"It was just natural," Price said. "I know it's been two years, but it felt like freshman year because a lot of my freshmen teammates are on the line blocking and are my receivers."

Now, Taylorville and coach Jeb Odam are faced with preparing for a new quarterback, but Odam feels comfortable.

"Watching Mount Zion on film this year reminds us about how teams probably looked at us on tape with Tanner (Champley) at quarterback," Odam said. "The run game goes through (Price) and they pass a little bit.

"We definitely thought it could be a possibility," Odam added, speaking about the change. "You only get athletes like him so much. It only makes sense to put him at quarterback to have the ball in his hands every time. That's how we were last year with Tanner back there."

Mount Zion also made moves to put more of its best athletes in important positions. They started the season making an effort to play 22 kids -- no one going both ways -- but that had to change after the Taylorville loss.

Matt Wike plays outside linebacker and running back. Andrew Auton is lining up at right guard and middle linebacker. Nate Ewing is on both lines at left tackle and defensive end. Popovich said more could play both sides of the ball today, since Taylorville is the team that forced the changed.

The Braves also recently returned left guard Cody Emberton and Griffin Gahwiler from injuries. Emberton, a three-year starter, is the heart of the Braves' offensive line. Gahwiler had four interceptions in two games before getting injured during Week 2.

"The change was good -- was well needed," Emberton said. "Since then, everything's gone a little bit smoother."

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