Last year: Kell 35, Riverwood 7
All-time series: Kell leads 1-0
Prediction: Kell 42, Riverwood 14
Kell coach Derek Cook has a philosophy when it comes to running backs. He’s had it ever since he took over the Longhorns’ job.
“I don’t really like to use one guy back there. One guy doing everything for the most part,” he said. “If I’m in that position, maybe I would use one back, but I usually have a bunch of quality guys, so it hasn’t been an issue.”
This season is no different.
Dating back to his first season with the Longhorns, Cook has had several stellar running backs to use at his disposal, namely Justin Randolph, Brian Randolph, Tyler Drake, Chris Gaines, Jordan Chambers, A.J. Redwine and Jamari Moore, among others.
Entering Friday’s subregion matchup against Riverwood, a new group of running backs are providing Kell with a solid ground game to go with its aerial attack. Darian Harris, Jay Moxey and Itabari Mason have combined for 638 yards and nine touchdowns as the running back-by-committee approach has worked well so far for the undefeated and fourth-ranked Longhorns.
“I like to keep the guys back there competing,” Cook said. “They have to do that to keep playing. Some of it is to just keep guys healthy and not overwork them. Some of it is to just rotate guys in who play defense, too. The guys do a good job and provide a different element to our running game.”
Moxey, a 5-foot-7 senior, has the most carries (47) and is second in rushing yards (212) with four touchdowns. Harris, a 5-10 senior, has 33 rushes for 221 yards and three scores, while Mason, a 5-9 junior, has rushed 24 times for 205 yards and two touchdowns. Julian Burris, a 5-11 senior, has also played running back, taking 13 carries for 93 yards and a score.
It’s an approach that has worked well for Cook, who has the Longhorns closing in on another region championship.
“It’s really a team effort,” Cook said. “It’s about winning and success with these guys. It’s not about the yards and carries that they get. These are very unselfish guys.”
— By Carlton D. White
Game: Osborne (2-3) at Pope (1-4), 7:30 p.m.
Last year: Pope 21, Osborne 0
All-time series: Pope leads 5-0
Prediction: Pope 14, Osborne 10
A new season begins for both Pope and Osborne, and both teams wouldn’t mind the second chance when they meet at Pope Multi-Sport Complex.
But they also know there’s no more room for error. This is the first weekend of Region 7AAAAA (B) play for both teams.
“It’s a big game,” Osborne coach Xarvia Smith said. “We need this one to get us started at 1-0 in the region.”
Pope is younger and more inexperienced after losing key position players who were supposed to return.
Most of Pope’s struggles have come on the defensive side of the ball, where its given up an average of 45.6 points a game. The only time Pope (1-4) held a team below 30 points this season, it won 28-24 over Northview in a Region 7AAAAA crossover game.
“We’ve had a do a couple of things at practice that will help us play better and faster,” Pope coach Matt Kemper said. The kids are responding well and hustling.”
The Greyhounds will have to concentrate on minimizing mistakes. Six turnovers, en route to a 41-32 loss to second-year program Cambridge last Friday, was their undoing.
Pope is also focusing more on taking care of the football on offense and running to the ball on defense.
Meanwhile, Osborne is 2-3 on the season with one of those victories coming against Cambridge. The Cardinals have been able to move the ball efficiently with quarterback Craig Robinson under center, but the Cardinals’ struggles are punching it in in the red zone. Turnovers have also been a factor.
“We could average 24 points a game, but we’re not doing a good enough job in the red zone,” Smith said. “If we don’t score 21 points or more (against Pope), we’re going to be in trouble.”
— By Adam Carrington
Game: Allatoona (4-1, 4-1) at New Manchester (4-2, 4-2), 7:30 p.m.
Last year: Allatoona 41, New Manchester 13
All-time series: Allatoona leads 1-0
Prediction: Allatoona 42, New Manchester 14
Allatoona coach Gary Varner knew that South Paulding was going to be a huge test for his team last week.
The Buccaneers’ first four opponents had a combined record of 4-15. The Spartans were 3-0 entering the matchup and averaging 48.7 points per game.
South Paulding proved Varner right.
The Buccaneers’ defense got a wake-up call in their 48-45 overtime loss to the Spartans. The team led 28-14 at halftime but allowed 14 third-quarter points to knot the contest at 28-all. Allatoona even took a seven-point fourth-quarter advantage, only to see it disappear as South Paulding answered with another game-tying score before falling in overtime.
The setback was a Region 5AAAAA loss, but was it a bad thing?
“The stage may have been too big for our young players,” Varner said. “That’s a coaching issue. I could have called more timeouts and better managed the ebb and flow and emotions of the moments with my guys. We weren’t able to step up and be more competitive. The kids sort of melted, and that’s on me.”
Varner doesn’t give excuses, either. With top running back Josh Bettistea unavailable due to an injury, and other defensive starters also hurting in the second half, he expressed that South Paulding was just the better team and played well when it mattered most.
Friday’s opponent, New Manchester, is also playing well. Although, the Jaguars have lost two straight after winning four in a row to start the season, they are still a very dangerous team with a talented quarterback.
“It’s like we’re going from playing Johnny Manziel to RGIII,” Varner said when comparing South Paulding’s quarterback to New Manchester’s.
In preparing for the Jaguars, Allatoona learned some things about itself as they relate to the South Paulding loss.
“(The loss) is only a lesson if you learn from it,” Varner said. “And for us, the jury is still out. The guys were shell-shocked by South Paulding. Now, we’ll get to see what we’re made of against New Manchester.
“What type of attitude will we have Friday. It’s not good to get whipped and not learn from it. This is our chance. The shine is off. No one fears playing Allatoona. We’ll have to learn to overcome that.”
— By Carlton D. White