Flashes size up struggling Hartfield

Published 11:24 am Thursday, September 20, 2012

Coaches often joke about throwing out the tape after bad losses. When it came time to bone up on this week’s opponent, however, St. Aloysius coach B.J. Smithhart really had no reason to watch last year’s 35-7 drubbing at the hands of University Christian.

After all, not only have the coach and most of the players changed, so has the school.

Following its purchase by Pinelake Church earlier this year, University Christian ceased to exist. Pinelake changed the name to Hartfield Academy, the colors from orange and blue to red and gold, and the nickname from Flames to Hawks.

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Dan Davis replaced Theo Hannan as coach and a number of players — including quarterback Caleb Shufelt, who threw four touchdown passes against St. Al last season — graduated or transferred.

Hartfield Academy still occupies the same campus on Mississippi 25 in Flowood, but even that will be unfamiliar territory for St. Al, which has never played a football game there before this Friday night. Prior to 2011, University Christian was a member of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools and had never played St. Al before last year’s game in Vicksburg.

“They wanted to be different. I think they changed everything. They don’t want to be known as last year’s team,” Smithhart said. “They don’t have as many older guys as last year. You’re going to see some ups and downs with them.”

Smithhart can certainly sympathize with wanting a fresh start. After a dreadful three-game stretch in which they gave up more than 1,100 rushing yards and 119 points, the Flashes (0-4, 0-2 Region 4-1A) turned in their best performance of the season last week. They took a talented Dexter team to the wire before giving up two touchdowns in the last three minutes and lost 16-7.

One of the late scores was intentional. Trailing 8-7 with less than 2 minutes left and no timeouts, St. Al allowed Dexter to score in an effort to get the ball back with a one-score deficit. Dexter made a 2-point conversion, however, to seal the game.

Smithhart said the challenge now is to keep the momentum going.

“We’ll find out Friday if we can carry it over. We had a lot of younger guys step up and play really well,” Smithhart said. “We got more aggressive, it seemed like. We hit them first. That does a lot for you, confidence-wise and everything else.”

On paper, Friday’s game appears to be a good opportunity for St. Al to break into the win column. Hartfield (1-2, 0-2) has been outscored 57-7 in its last two games, one of them a 30-0 loss to Dexter.

Smithhart wasn’t seeing an easy game, however. He noted that both teams are in the same situation of needing a win to boost morale, and said Hartfield won’t be a pushover for his squad.

“They’re well-coached. They use more offensive sets than anybody we’ve played,” Smithhart said. “They play hard, and they’re hungry, too. They’re in the same boat as us. This is going to turn somebody’s season around.”