Small schools play with the big boys

Published 12:25am Sunday, August 28, 2011

On back-to-back Fridays, local teams have played football games that had a curious tidbit to them.

On opening night Aug. 19, we watched Trinity Episcopal, an MAIS Class AA school, take on Jefferson County High School, an MHSAA Class 3A school.

This past Friday, we saw Jefferson County take on Natchez High School, an MHSAA Class 6A opponent.

In both instances, it was a case of big school versus small school, at least on the surface.

By no means, though, were these match-ups David and Goliath-type match-ups. While it’s true that the bigger schools ended up winning in both instances, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see Trinity upset Jefferson County, or Jefferson County topple NHS.

Trinity might be a private school, but there’s no shortage of athletes on the Saints’ roster. David King’s coaching staff also makes a point to have their players — especially the linemen — keep up with strength and conditioning almost year round.

Because of this, Trinity is always going to be a hard-nosed team in the trenches. If you can hold your own on the offensive and defensive lines, and you have playmakers on your team, you can compete with almost anyone not named South Panola.

Jefferson County in recent years has been one of the stronger teams in the area. James Herrington and his staff have done an excellent job with the talent on hand, so to see his team keep close with NHS Friday for most of the game wasn’t a surprise.

So despite the size of Trinity and then Jefferson County, both teams had ample reason to step up to the challenge of playing a bigger team.

One reason is obvious: There’s not much travel time between Fayette and Natchez. It’s maybe a 45-minute drive. Playing local teams is wise economically, and it gets the fans excited to see the teams compete in cross-county rivalries.

Furthermore, both Trinity and Jefferson County look to compete for championships on both the divisional and state level.

Playing tough out-of-conference games helps prepare both teams for the rigors of a divisional and post-season schedule. Sure, you could schedule creampuff teams and blow them out 55-0, but doing that doesn’t challenge your players to get better.

The only time scheduling easy non-conference games makes sense is if your squad has had a couple of down years prior to the current season. As a coach, if your squad is used to losing, and you feel like this might be the year they’ll turn the corner, scheduling easy games early can allow them to boost confidence. That can act as a momentum builder to catapult the players into their conference schedule.

Neither Trinity nor Jefferson County was able to overthrow their “bigger” opponents these past two Fridays, but some positives could be take from those games.

Neither team backed down from the challenge, and both games could serve as measuring sticks to where each team is now, versus where they want to be.

Am I saying it was good for them to lose? No, and I don’t think the players and coaches for either team would accept losing. But what they take from those losses is what will make a difference in the long run.

MICHAEL KEREKES is the sports editor for The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3633 or at michael.kerekes@natchezdemocrat.com.