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SIA gears up for another title run

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 16, 2014

 

ROLLING FORK — It took Sharkey-Issaquena three years to climb the mountain and win a state championship.

As they begin the defense of their MAIS Eight-Man division title, the Confederates are bound and determined to make sure they not only enjoy the view for a while, but keep their place at the top.

“There’s a bunch of folks saying we are the favorites again. We’ve gotten a lot of pats on the backs. There’s a sense we’re supposed to do something,” SIA coach Hunter McIntire said. “But we’re trying to stay humble and hungry. We’re beating them down in practice to get to that point.”

If the Confederates stay as hungry as they were last season, they’ll be the ones dishing out the beatings when the season starts Aug. 22 at Kemper Academy.

SIA capped a perfect 14-0 season with a 42-28 win over Franklin Academy in the Eight-Man championship game last November.

The Feds have won 21 of their last 22 games — it’s technically 22 in a row since they earned a forfeit over Russell Christian in a game they lost on the field, but McIntire is reluctant to count that victory — and are a heavy favorite to repeat as champs.

They only lost one starter from last year’s team. Senior quarterback Jack Martin, running backs Austin Steed and Cooper Anthony are all back, as are a number of other key players.

Anthony rushed for 1,247 yards and 20 touchdowns last season, and Steed had 958 yards and 16 TDs.

Defensive end Victor Villareal had 118 tackles and 5 1/2 sacks last season, and will return to lead a unit that gave up just 14 points per game.

Perhaps the scariest thing for SIA’s opponents is that the champs aren’t resting on their laurels. After McIntire took over for retired head coach Billy Caston, his first order of business was to install a no-huddle offense. SIA averaged 46 points per game last season — a big number even in the offensive-oriented eight-man game — and figures to be even more explosive this season.

“It just wears the other team down and breaks their confidence when you’re scoring again and again and again,” said Martin, who threw or 22 touchdown passes against and only two interceptions in 166 attempts last season. “We ought to be very explosive on offense.”

As the reigning king of eight-man football, the Confederates are well aware they’ll need every trick in the book to stay on top. Even one slip-up can send them tumbling. McIntire was quick to point out that SIA was 10-0 heading into its regular-season finale last year and still hadn’t clinched a playoff berth.

“We won a championship and nobody can get it from us. But there’s a new one out there this year,” McIntire said. “We’re not defending anything. We’re hunting down a new one.”

They’re also the hunted, but that’s just fine by them. It just means it’ll bring out the best in themselves, senior lineman Weston Joiner said.

“I think it’s awesome we have a target on us. That makes me feel great,” Joiner said. “It’s definitely a challenge, but it’s a good one for your senior year.”