Saints a game away from title bout

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 5, 2003




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NATCHEZ &045; It’s this year’s senior bunch that’s been a big part of Trinity Episcopal’s success over recent seasons.

But thanks to a lesson while they were juniors, they’re going into Friday night’s South State championship contest as mature as seniors are supposed to be. It’s their third straight appearance in South final, but last year’s 30-8 loss at Prentiss Christian put something in the backs of their minds they surely haven’t forgotten.

&uot;We’re not as confident as we were last year,&uot; quarterback Ryan Rachal said. We were kind of cocky last year, but we’re more down to earth this year. It’s just from experience. We’ve been to the big show and South State last year. It’s one game at a time.&uot;

So you won’t see anything perceived as confidence in assuming the Saints, ranked No. 1 in MPSA Class A, are going to the state championship when they host Tallulah Academy at 7 p.m. Friday. The Saints have had wars in their first two playoff games, and this year’s South State championship will be just as tough as last year’s match against Prentiss.

&uot;We’re keeping it in the backs of our minds every play,&uot; senior linebacker Ivan Nastally said. &uot;I’m not really worried about next week. We’ve got to get this one over first. It’s one step at a time.&uot;

Factor in the last two wins for the Saints &045; a team that steamrolled through the regular season by posting shutouts in seven of its 10 games &045; and they’re awfully battle-tested coming into Friday’s contest.

In wins over Deer Creek and Glenbrook the Saints had to fight to get the win, and in the Glenbrook game they had to erase a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter to take the 21-20 victory.

&uot;That’s a playoff atmosphere,&uot; Trinity head coach David King said. &uot;Everybody knows it’s a one-game season, and everybody is playing their hardest every play. We’re fortunate to still be playing after the two close games we’ve had. We’ve had to battle. Our kids are well-tested in those types of games, and it’s going to come down to turnovers and who holds on to the ball.&uot;

The Saints were already down a starter when Chase Brown went down with a knee injury in the final regular season game, and now they’ll be without freshman Stevan Ridley. The starting noseguard and reserve running back broke a bone in his ankle during the game last week, and that puts both sides of the ball in a tight spot for Friday.

Preston Parish may get the nod at nose or platoon some with Alex Allain, but that could put Joey Wilson getting more touches out of the backfield on offense.

&uot;It’s another big hole to fill, but that’s part of high school football,&uot; King said. &uot;What people don’t realize is a an injury to a single-A school is like three or four to a triple-A school. Somebody will have to step up. That’s part of it.&uot;

The Saints’ defensive front &045; and offensive front as well, here in the world of single-A football &045; will go up against a Tallulah line that’s got plenty of size and may have the most size they’ve seen this season when it lost to Trinity in the second round.

The Trojans come into the contest after posting a convincing 38-7 win over Claiborne Academy and are returning a good chunk of players from last year. The offensive line blocks for a two-back set in the backfield behind quarterback Cade Marsh.

&uot;They’re huge up front and have those two great backs,&uot; King said. &uot;They’re the same team as last year &045; just bigger. They’re small, shifty backs, and Marsh has been a 1,000-yard rusher for four years in a row. They’re very big and very physical. They remind me a lot of that Prentiss team. They’ll hit you in the mouth. They’re a smash-mouth football team.&uot;

It’s the same bunch of players on defense, and they’ve given teams fits at times this year. They held WCCA scoreless while creating turnovers in the playoff opener, one of five teams they’ve held scoreless this year.

The win over Claiborne erased their 26-8 loss to the Rebels earlier the season.

&uot;They’re big and physical up front,&uot; Rachal said. &uot;The only way we win this game is if our line steps up and blocks. If they don’t block, we don’t win.&uot;

The Saints’ defense may be a big key to the contest if they can stop the power running game. The defense has played well at times in the two playoff games in better field position.

&uot;They’re definitely big and strong,&uot; Nastally said. &uot;Our defensive line will really have to step up this week. Everybody will really have to do an outstanding job this week.&uot;