Flashes, Wave battle for more than pride|PREP FOOTBALL

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 18, 2008

Even when there’s nothing on the line, the annual throwdown between St. Aloysius and Cathedral is a big game for both teams.

Making it a key turning point in the Region 3-1A playoff race just adds a little more spice.

Even though it’s still early in the season, Friday night’s game in Natchez will have a say in how the playoff chase shakes out. Both teams are expected to battle for the fourth and final berth in the region — behind Puckett, Mount Olive and Bogue Chitto, all of which are ranked in the top 10 in Class 1A — and St. Al (2-1) enters a game behind Cathedral (3-0). A loss to their bitter rivals would, essentially, drop the Flashes three games back because of the head-to-head tiebreaker.

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A win, however, would put St. Al in front.

“If we want to make the playoffs, we have to beat Cathedral. This will get us right back in the hunt,” St. Al coach B.J. Smithhart said. “We need this one as far as the standings. They said they’re bringing in some extra bleachers. That’s great. The more people, the better. That’ll get the kids more fired up.”

Not that they need any extra motivation. St. Al’s players are taught from the first day they suit up in junior high that if there’s only one game to win each year, it’s Cathedral. The current group of seniors has a 2-1 record against the Green Wave, and would love to finish on top in the series.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s definitely a different level than any other game we play,” St. Al offensive lineman Cole Whitney said. “The players are always pumped up. Coaches push us, but they don’t have to do much. We’ve hated (Cathedral) for a long time.”

While St. Al has rolled the last two weeks, outscoring Dexter and Salem 68-21, Cathedral has had to scrap to find ways to win. They missed several red zone opportunities while holding off Salem 16-14, then needed a fourth-quarter comeback to beat Pelahatchie last week. Cathedral scored 14 points in the fourth quarter to win 35-26.

Despite their close calls, Cathedral has shown a variety of looks on offense that has allowed it to get the job done. Against Salem, quarterback Preston Edwards threw for 204 yards. Against Pelahatchie, the Wave gained 173 of their 240 total yards on the ground. In both games, they were able to chew up the clock in the fourth quarter with the running game.

“Our big guys are going to be challenged,” Smithhart said. “Against Pelahatchie, they changed it up and ran it right at them.”

St. Al can do the same. Quarterback Chris Lewis and tailback Ryno Martin-Nez both have more than 175 rushing yards this season, and provide a solid one-two punch. Brendan Beesley and Justin Hosemann have gotten fewer carries, but have also been effective when called upon.

“We’ve got four good backs,” Smithhart said. “Ryno’s been getting most of the yards lately, but any of them can step in there and get the job done.”