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Iles to lead defense against offensive-minded Cenla tonight

Trinity Episcopal Day School senior Michael Iles practices with the rest of the football team to prepare for Friday night's semifinal playoff game against Cenla Christian. (BRITTNEY LOHMILLER | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT)
Trinity Episcopal Day School senior Michael Iles practices with the rest of the football team to prepare for Friday night’s semifinal playoff game against Cenla Christian. (BRITTNEY LOHMILLER | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT)

NATCHEZ — Along with the rest of his Trinity Episcopal Day School teammates, Michael Iles remembers Week 1 of the season.

He remembers the Saints giving up 34 points to Cenla Christian Academy in a 44-34 win — and as a leader for the Saints’ defense, he wasn’t exactly thrilled, even if his team won.

“We’ve been talking about that the whole week,” Iles said. “We don’t plan on letting them score nearly as much. We just have to come out as hard as we always do, start fast and finish strong.”

The Saints face Cenla again tonight in the state semifinal round of the MAIS Class A playoffs. After Week 1, the Saints steadily improved on defense the next few weeks, then hit a high. Trinity gave up 18 points to Centreville Academy in Week 2 and 16 points to Central Private the next week before stringing together four straight shutouts. Since October, the Saints have only given up 14 points total.

“I remember it being a track meet,” Saints head coach Josh Loy said about playing Cenla. “We made enough plays at the end to put it away. They’re the most athletic team we’ve seen all year and probably will see. They have speed all over the field and match up well with our athletes. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”

Like Iles, Loy said he’s stressed to the players the importance of having a chip on their shoulder after giving up so many points to the Lions in their first meeting.

“It’s one of the last things I said to them after practice (Thursday),” Loy said. “We certainly expect a better outing. Everyone improved since Week 1, and we’re a better football team now, but so are they.”

Iles said the Saints weren’t quite in game shape last time, which he believes contributed to the team giving up more than 30 points in Week 1.

“The first quarter lasted 55 minutes, and the whole game was three hours and 40 minutes,” Iles said. “It took us a little while to get back in (game shape). Once we hit the third and fourth quarter, we played like we should.”

The results of that game backed Iles up. After yielding 12 points in the first quarter and 14 points in the second, the Saints gave up just eight points in the third against Cenla while pitching a scoreless fourth quarter.

If the Saints are going to do well defensively tonight, much of it will fall on Iles’ shoulders. The Trinity coaching staff relies on Iles to act as a coach on the field at middle linebacker, something for which Loy said Iles is suited.

“He’s our defensive captain,” Loy said. “He gets us in the right position and does a good job with that. He’s smart — sometimes too smart. But he knows our schemes and knows what to do.”

Iles said there’s a lot of information to process as a defensive captain, but he’s gotten use to the demands.

“You have to pay attention the whole time and be able to watch the coach and also be able to answer questions people ask you (on the field),” Iles said. “You have to know the whole defense and pay attention in film study. It just becomes second nature after a while.”

With the Saints being one game away from a state title berth, Iles pointed to Trinity’s loss to Simpson Academy in the third round in 2011 as a comparison to their current situation.

“We lost to Simpson in the third round during my 10th grade year,” Iles said. “We all said we wouldn’t let this happen again, and we get a chance to prove that (tonight). We’re just ready to play the game and not let this be our last one.”

Kickoff is at 7 p.m. today at Trinity.

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