Neshoba Central may be 1-2, but that record doesn't fool Northeast Lauderdale coach Curt Blackburn.
Blackburn, who has the Trojans 2-1 in his first season as head coach, has spent the week pointing out just how formidable the Rockets are. In their two defeats, the Rockets have faced Quitman — ranked No. 4 in Class 4A in the state's AP poll as well as the Division 5-4A favorite — and perennial power Louisville.
"They're a pretty good team and physical and big," Blackburn said. "They have very high quality losses and they are pretty good despite that 1-2 record."
If he is having any trouble convincing the Trojans just how good Neshoba can be, all Blackburn needs is a film from last year's meeting. There, the Rockets hammered host Northeast 49-6.
"Last year they embarrassed us," he said. "Hopefully we've moved past that and can keep rolling in the right direction.
"This should be one of our best battles of the year so far."
Providing confidence for Northeast heading into the road game was the emergence of Stevie Sanders in the backfield last week as well as the defensive showing against rival Southeast Lauderdale. In his first game back from a suspension, Sanders rushed for 80 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. He provides depth to a talented backfield.
"It clears up some stuff for Phillip (Everett) and even lets us use Phillip as a decoy," Blackburn said.
Everett, the Trojans' three-year starting running back rushed for 120 yards against Southeast.
On the other side of the tape, Northeast blanked the Tigers in winning the rivalry game for the first time in three years. It was also the Trojans' first shutout since 2002, when Northeast blanked Magee 25-0 in Steve Nelson's first season as coach. The Trojans have switched to a 3-4 defense this season that has fit well.
"The defense has done an outstanding job," Blackburn said. "They've really stepped up and it's like I told (Southeast) coach (Charles) Black, this is our defense's second year. They're all experienced and that's helped out a bunch.
"That adaptation has worked really well. We spent the first two weeks of practice really teaching them the defense on the chalkboard rather than just letting them go out and just run around trying to learn it. It's really helped with their knowledge."
And the Trojans' play.
— Jamie Wachter
Richmond, Bulldogs look to get through tough times
For head coach Chris Richmond and the Clarkdale Bulldogs, things are tough. Clarkdale (0-3) is fresh off a 36-12 loss to Union in which the Bulldogs were torched for more than 300 yards by Yellowjaket quarterback Jesse Gill.
Friday things might not be any easier, as the Bulldogs go up against a 2-1 Lake team that offers a rushing attack of their own.
“We have a hard time stopping the run,” Richmond said. “They have a couple of running backs that scare me. Their team speed scares me a little bit.”
In order to switch things up on defense, the Bulldogs will be making changes, especially on the line, where Richmond hopes some of his younger players can step up and provide a spark.
“I don’t feel we were getting what we needed to out of the defensive line,” Richmond said. “You will probably see a little bit more of a youth movement and some different faces that haven’t started. We are just trying to mix it up and find something that works.”
The main problem for Clarkdale this season has been a lack of finishing games. Richmond said he has stressed finishing as a main point during practice.
“If you go back and watch every game, we play well with every team during the first half,” Richmond said. “The problem is for some reason we have a problem with one taking leads and two coming out and finishing the third and fourth quarters.
“I’m not sure if it is depth, but it can’t be conditioning. I’m hoping that now that we are in Week 4 we are in game shape and ready to take teams into the fourth quarterand give ourself a chance to win.”
Despite the struggles this season, Richmond sees plenty of room for improvement from his team.
“I thought overall we had pretty good practice this week,” Richmond said. “We just need to play the kind of ball game that we can play and do the things we need to do to win.
Friday night is homecoming for the Bulldogs as they try to secure their first win of the season. Last season the Bulldogs lost a close game to Lake as they fell on the road 27-20 to the Hornets. Richmond said a win Friday night would be big, not just because of the homecoming game, but also because it would serve as a spark for a team much in need of something positive.
“This week is homecoming so itis going to be a big week for us,” Richmond said. We are looking something positive to build momentum.”
— Tony Tsoukalas
Lamar looks to stop rushing attack
Last season when Lamar played Central Hinds Academy, the Raiders destroyed the Cougars 57-27, taking advantage of a young and inexperienced Central Hinds team with only five seniors.
That was last year.
This season, the Cougars come into the matchup with a 2-1 record and an offense that features the No.1 rusher in MAIS Class AA football.
“They have the leading running back in AA football,” Lamar coach Mac Barnes said. “Brian King, he's just a 10th-grader, but he's got over 500 yards in three games. They are just a big line of scrimmage and they run the ball steady. They play good hard-nosed football.”
If Lamar is going to successfully stop King and the Cougars, they must first find a way to get healthy. The Raiders, who are 3-0 for the first time since 2009, were missing four starters in their last game against Winston Academy, and Barnes said his team can not afford to accumulate anymore injuries.
“We are sitting here with 22 or 24 players,” Barnes said. “We are a couple injuries from really being in a bind. So our first priority is to get our guys well, and get as many people to understand the system as we can.”
Central Hinds runs out of the pistol formation, something Barnes and the Raiders have not seen very much of in the past. The head coach said his team will have to be well disciplined on defense if they want to stop the rushing attack and come out with a win Friday night.
“We've had three emotional games in a row, and we are going to have another one this week,” Barnes said. “The No.1 thing we talked about this preseason is consistency, and that's not every game, it's every play. That is something we are striving for. We just got to get more consistent.”
— Tony Tsoukalas
Calvary down on numbers not heart
Calvary Christian did not have much depth heading into the season. Friday night against North Sunflower Academy, Kirby Newell and the Cougars will have even fewer numbers, as Calvary's 12-man roster was cut to 11 when sophomore receiver Corey Zhoa transferred to Lamar earlier in the week.
“We knew this was going to be an issue from the beginning of the season,” Newell said of Calvary's depth. “This is something we knew we were going to have to overcome, and we expected it. The moral on this team is fine.”
To add on to Calvary's depth woes, the Cougars’ go-to receiver Josh Roberts pulled his quad during last week's loss to Hebron Christian. Newell said Roberts will be limited in practice this week, but does expect the receiver to heal and hopes to play Roberts Friday.
Going into its first MAIS 8-Man District 1 game, Calvary will face a North Sunflower team that has struggled to an 0-3 start to the season. While Newell was quick to recognize North Sunflower is better than its record indicates, the coach said Friday night's game provides his team with an opportunity to get its season back on track.
“They are big, but maybe not as fast as last year,” Newell said of North Sunflower. “They are 0-3, but they played three good schools. They are a team we will have a chance to beat.”
As the Cougars look to secure their first conference win, they will turn to senior Josh Carrraway to lead out of the backfield. The 5-foot-9, 153-pound Carrawy has been the Cougar’s leading rusher this season.
Newell said he will make changes to the offensive line in order to provide more speed to the unit, allowing the Cougars get the ball to the edge and let Carraway use his speed.
— Tony Tsoukalas
Russell Christian won't sleep on Delta
Few teams have looked as dominating as Russell Christian Academy at the 8-man level heading into district play. Coach Nate Ballard and his Warriors head into their first District 1 game against Delta Academy leading the league in point differential, while out scoring opponents 130-18 in three games.
Leading the way for the Warriors is a punishing defense, which has defied the common notion of high-flying offensive shootouts 8-man fans have grown accustom to.
“The goal every time we step on the field as a defense is to shut them down,” Ballard said. “We want them to have zero yards and zero points. It is certainly a point of pride for us.”
Up next for Russell Christian is a trip to Delta Academy, where the Warrior defense will hope to contain dual-threat quarter back Cody Harbour.
“We got to be prepared to stop him,” Ballard said of Harbour. “They do a lot of different formations to get him where he can run, so we got to do a good job on defense keying on our reads to make sure where we are going and where we need to be.”
Ballard said he has been using quarterbacks Walker Mosby and Jacob Howse during practice to simulate the running formations the Warriors will see on Friday night.
Despite Russel Christian's success, Ballard has preached to his team to take one game at a time and not over look their next opponent. Despite the four-hour trip to Delta Academy, Ballard said he will make sure his team is not caught sleeping and is fully prepared for a tough game Friday night.
“It's a huge district game for us,” Ballard said. “Delta Academy is a good district team and have a really good chance of making the playoffs this season. We are definitely going to be ready for it.”
— Tony Tsoukalas