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Delta battle looms large for PCA, SIA

Sharkey-Issaquena Academy has ridden the legs of senior running back Zack McDaniel (31) this season. The bruising runner is questionable for tonight’s key game against Porters Chapel. (Jon GiffinThe Vicksburg Post)

[10/1/04]Over the years, Porters Chapel and Sharkey-Issaquena haven’t exactly been football hotbeds.

PCA dropped football due to lack of interest for several years in the early 1990s, while SIA struggled through a slew of losing seasons in the last decade and won just 10 games during one brutal three-year stretch. Between them, the teams have fewer playoff appearances (five) than District 4-A rival Tri-County has championship game appearances (seven).

Tonight in Rolling Fork, however, that’s all about to change. PCA (5-1, 2-0) and SIA (2-4, 1-1) meet with a playoff berth on the line in the biggest game for both schools in years.

PCA will clinch a playoff berth with a win. SIA would still need help if it wins tonight ironically, it needs to beat PCA and then have the Eagles beat Tri-County in the season finale Oct. 22 but the Confederates will be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss.

“We’ve been trying to get back to the playoffs every year since 98,” said PCA coach Randy Wright, referring to the school’s last postseason appearance in 1998. “If you ask them, they’re probably in the same boat … They’ve got to feel like if they win, they’re in, and they’ve got to be doing everything they can to gear up for this football game.”

Sharkey will have to do everything and more to prepare itself.

Already reeling from several injuries on the offensive line, the Confederates were dealt a crushing blow last week when star running back Zack McDaniel suffered a dislocated elbow in a loss to Prairie View.

McDaniel, who has rushed for 1,274 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, was hit in the end zone after an 85-yard touchdown run. SIA coach Cory Britt said there was a slim chance McDaniel could suit up tonight, but the odds were against it.

“He wants to play, but the chances are 15 percent that he will play and 5 percent that he should play,” Britt said. “If he does end up playing, it’s going to be sports immortality. There’s no way he should be playing.”

Fullback Larry Stevens will move to tailback and replace McDaniel. He has averaged about 50 yards per game, but had 85 in relief last week. Britt had confidence in Stevens, and believed he’ll be an effective substitute.

“He’s done the job. We’re real confident in him. But his main job is to play fullback and put a helmet on somebody,” Britt said. “He’s a good kid. He deserves the chance to be a featured back. He does everything you ask of him.”

SIA also has an effective passing game, but it may be hindered without the threat of McDaniel’s breakaway runs. Seven of McDaniel’s 17 touchdowns have been for 40 yards or more. That forces teams to crowd the line of scrimmage to stop him, and opens things up for quarterback Tyler Hankins.

If McDaniel can’t go or is less than 100 percent, PCA’s ball-hawking secondary could have a field day. Cole Smith has already intercepted eight passes this season, returning four for touchdowns. In all, the Eagles have returned six interceptions for scores.

“Defensively, their speed is what gives people problems,” Britt said. “They just run you down and tackle you.”