The number one ranked team in Class AAA of the AISA will be in Troy Friday night, as Fort Dale will take on Pike Liberal Arts in a rematch of last year’s state championship game.
PLAS Head Coach Steven Kilcrease said the Eagles will provide a tough test for the ninth-ranked Patriots.
“They’re a big physical, football team,” Kilcrease said. “They’ve got a lot of speed, probably as much or more speed than we’ll see from anyone else this year. They’re always physical. Coach James Sampley does a great job, and he’ll have them ready to play.”
Senior Justin McLaughlin echoed his coach’s concern over the speed of the Eagles.
“They’re a little different than they were last year,” McLaughlin said. “Last year, they went under center, but this year, they are trying to spread it out. They like to run counters and the speed option. They’re faster than us, I think. That might hurt us a little bit.”
Kilcrease said Fort Dale’s change in offensive schemes could give the Eagles a bit of an advantage.
“They’re more of a spread team, but they still want to run the football, even out of the spread,” Kilcrease said. “It’s a little bit different, as far as their offense and what we’re accustomed to. That concerns us a little bit, but hopefully we’ll be ready.”
One of the trademarks of Fort Dale football is an aggressive, blitz-happy defense, something Kilcrease said the offensive line has worked on during practice this week.
“We’re sending a lot of guys at them, and we’re sending them from pretty much everywhere,” Kilcrease said. “They will do that. They disguise a lot, and they roam around with their backers a lot. It’s hard to pick up. We’ve just got to do a good job of picking up that blitz.”
While it may be just the third game of the season, this week’s game could be the biggest of the entire season for both teams.
Kilcrease said the game Friday will go a long way toward determining playoff positioning.
“I think it’s hard to say the third game of the season and just the second region game could have playoff implications, but this one does,” Kilcrease said. “Last year, when all was said and done, it came down to that game as far as the region championship was concerned. I think it could very possibly be that way again this year.”
The game Kilcrease referred to was the first of two matchups between the two schools in 2008.
Pike Lib won the regular season game 22-16, and then went on to win the state championship game against Fort Dale 20-17.
However, when the preseason polls were released, Fort Dale was ranked number one.
Pike Lib was ranked ninth, the only defending state champion to not be ranked number one in the preseason.
Kilcrease said he was pleased with the way the polls fell.
“I was proud when that came out,” Kilcrease said. “ I could care less about those rankings, but I think it upset our guys a little bit, which maybe is a good thing.”
McLaughlin, for one, seemed a bit upset about the rankings.
“It’s just odd because we won state last year and beat them twice,” McLaughlin said. “We beat them, but they’re number one. I don’t really understand it, but I guess we’ll find out Friday night.”
McLaughlin said the team feels it has something to prove against the Eagles, and would love to come out with a big win.
“We all want to prove what we’ve got,” McLaughlin said. “We’ve just got to execute and everyone has to know their responsibility.”