Hunting for Wolves

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Chad Cox of St. Aloysius gets ready to hand the ball off to Michael Head during the Flashes’ 21-12 win over Cathedral on Friday night. Head was injured in the game and will miss the rest of the playoffs. Greg Smith will lead the Flashes’ run game against Puckett on Friday night. Puckett played for the South State title a season ago. (The Vicksburg Post/C. Todd Sherman)

[11/13/02]St. Aloysius running back Greg Smith is calling the Class 1A playoffs a “new season.”

It certainly is new territory for the Flashes, a team that has not seen the playoffs since 1996, but their first round opponent Puckett Attendance Center should at least be a familiar face.

“I didn’t think it was too much of a rivalry back then. It was just one of those (Region) games you need to win if you want to go to the playoffs,” lineman Blaise McMinn said. “Now it’s one of those games you really need to win if you want to stay in the playoffs.”

The playoff run could be made harder with the loss of junior running back Michael Head, who suffered a concussion to the spinal cord in the game against Cathedral, his father said Tuesday.

“The thing you do when you have people that go out is the others step up and fill in,” Flashes coach Jim Taylor said. “It’s not going to affect us as far as our intentions to go out and play hard and win.

“They’ve got a good defense that will be a bigger problem than who’s at running back.”

It doesn’t hurt that the Flashes (9-2) have two backs, Smith and Michael Engle, waiting in the wings.

Smith lit up Cathedral with 132 yards rushing on 29 carries and three touchdowns.

Engle complements Smith’s grind-it-out technique with the ability to break the long one like he did with a 33-yard burst on a 99-yard touchdown drive against Cathedral, and a 51-yard sprint against West Lincoln.

In their last two games against Cathedral and West Lincoln, the Flashes have scored a combined 63 points, and have no intentions of slowing down anytime soon.

“I think it’s been a late season surge. We were getting off slow for a couple games there, and we were being real slow about what we were doing. I think the late win at Enterprise-Lincoln really boosted us a lot and showed that we can stick in there and we’ll fight to the last few moments if we need to,” McMinn said. “And this win over Cathedral has really boosted the line because we’re ready to play anyone after that.”

Now the Flashes just have to figure out what they are going to do with the passing game.

“I don’t know what to say about the pass game,” Taylor said. “We’re trying to concentrate on one or two pass patterns, trying to get something that we can throw a pass on because sooner or later it’s going to come down to you’re not able to run the ball and you need to be able to throw.”

Playing in the competitive Region 4-1A, St. Al’s defense has seen it all when it comes to defending the running game. The Flashes are also familiar with the Wolves’ running back tandem of Zack Parker and Mathew Stewart from their region matchups in the past.

The Wolves’ passing game is another story.

Puckett (9-1), a team that made it to the South State final last year, will throw and run.

The Wolves’ offense is built on a 50-50 ratio of pass to run, featuring wingback Terrell Jackson, the Class 1A state champion in the 100 and 200 yard dash.

“He’s the type of kid who can score from anywhere on the field,” Taylor said. “He’s the type of kid that when a ball is thrown out there, he runs it down, whether it’s on offense or defense.”

Jackson is just the type of player that could blow up on a Flashes team that gave up 108 passing yards to Cathedral last week.

“I feel confident, it’s just like playing the run. You have to handle your responsibility, and I feel confident we can do well against it,” Taylor said. “The same thing bears in mind for them as it does for us, the more you throw the ball, the more chances you are taking.

“More bad things can happen when you throw it than good things.

“That’s the approach we’re taking to it. If they want to throw it, we’re going to try to catch it some, too.”

St. Al will have plenty of challenges come Friday, but Taylor doesn’t believe the Wolves’ passing attack, the playoff road-game atmosphere, or the loss of Head will cower the Flashes.

“We’ve got 11 seniors and they’re pretty mature kids, pretty level headed about what they’re doing, and they go about it in a working like manner,” Taylor said. “They’re enjoying their success and I think it’s just going to grow for us.

“Good blocking and good running backs, its worked well for us.”