Published 10:40 am Thursday, December 4, 2014
Defenses on the spot in 1A championship game on Friday
St. Aloysius and Cathedral combined to score 1,201 points this season. In their first meeting, way back in August, they racked up 73 points and 840 yards of total offense.
When they get together for the rematch in Friday’s Class 1A championship game, however, it might be the defenses that steal the show.
Cathedral has held six of its last seven opponents under 20 points and shut down high-powered offenses from Pelahatchie and Nanih Waiya in the playoffs. Taking its opening-night loss to Cathedral out of the equation, St. Al has allowed just 15 points per game and forced 48 turnovers.
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The two units have been an overlooked part of both teams’ run toward a title, and will need to be at their best to slow down the other’s explosive offense on Friday.
“This time, both defenses will be better prepared. It definitely has a chance to go the other way,” St. Al coach BJ Smithhart said. “That’s where you really win, is defense and special teams. That’s carried us through. The offense has created big plays, but stopping people and creating turnovers has carried us. We’ll definitely need to have that on Friday.”
Both defenses have been at their best in the playoffs. St. Al (13-1) has allowed just 26 points in three games, and none in the second halves of victories over Broad Street and Coffeeville. The Flashes haven’t recorded a shutout yet, but have posted scoreless halves in nine of 14 games. Often, opponents have scored a touchdown or two on the second string once the Flashes took a big lead.
Cathedral (13-1) held French Camp to 225 yards, then a high-powered Pelahatchie running game to 34 yards. Last week, the Green Wave limited Nanih Waiya to 32 yards in the second half to win 28-19 and secure the South State championship.
Both coaches said their early-season shootout was a byproduct of learning on the job. St. Al was breaking in a slew of new players, and Cathedral was adjusting to a new scheme. Once the players adjusted, things clicked into place for both defenses.
“We feel like we’ve improved a lot,” Cathedral coach Ron Rushing said. “Defensively, that (St. Al) was our first game learning our new scheme. We held a Pelahatchie team averaging 308 yards rushing to 34, held Nanih Waiya to 32 total yards in the second half last week. So defensively, we feel like we’re playing pretty good right now.”
Although both teams have made plenty of adjustments since the first time they played, they’ve spent the past week scouring that game film for any sort of an edge against an opponent they know well. Cathedral has won five in a row in the annual rivalry series. St. Al won four straight before that. St. Al leads the all-time series 26-25.
“It seems like a new season. It was so many games ago,” St. Al senior quarterback Connor Smith said. “We definitely know them, and they know us.”
Beyond the X’s and O’s, however, the rivalry lurks. It has colored everything about this matchup, turning it from just another football game — albeit on the state’s biggest stage — to one that provides a remarkably dramatic finale to a storybook season for both programs.
Two of the undisputedly best teams in Mississippi. A matchup that provides a neat bookend from game one to game 15. And a Catholic school rivalry that spans decades, rooted in religion, pride, and football.
“It would’ve been the biggest game anyway,” St. Al linebacker George Tzotzolas said. “But to make it Cathedral keeps it going. The seniors haven’t beaten them in a while, and to beat them in the state championship, when it really counts, would be huge.”
Class 1A championship
St. Aloysius vs. Cathedral
When: 11 a.m. Friday
Where: Davis Wade Stadium, Mississippi State University
Tickets: $13, includes admission to Friday’s Class 2A and 6A championship games
Radio: 101.3 FM
TV: WLOO-TV (Vicksburg Video Ch. 11)
Online: For live scoring updates, follow the Vicksburg Post on Twitter at twitter.com/vixpostsports