Robert E. Lee Academy is back in the SCISA 2A football state playoffs again, but it has a tough road ahead of it.
The Cavaliers are coming off a tough loss to Trinity-Byrnes, finishing 9-2 after playing for the Region I title on Friday and will …
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The Cavaliers are coming off a tough loss to Trinity-Byrnes, finishing 9-2 after playing for the Region I title on Friday and will open the playoffs against 7-2 Orangeburg Prep.
Despite losing the region title game and settling for third place in the process, REL head coach David Rankin said his Cavaliers are in high spirits.
"We had a really good practice on Monday and we'll bounce back," said Rankin. "I thought we had a really good practice, the attitude was good. Just a normal Monday. We were very disappointed on Friday. We've gotta rewind, but there's no going backward; we have to go forward and see what happens."
REL has a handful of injuries that are currently complicating its backfield alignment. The Cavaliers will be without their starting and backup tailbacks. Starting tailback Keaton Price will be out with a back injury and Christian Olson, who is also the team's leading tackler, is sidelined with a concussion. Rankin has some players he knows are ready to step up in the backfield, and he's preaching that 'next man up' mentality as they prepare for Orangeburg Prep.
"We tell them next man up," said Rankin. "We've got some other people. Reese Hardin will play some tailback, and we've got another little guy named Hampton Gaskins, who is a freshman, that ran well. We've gotten them in the game, and they've run the ball well. They've got about 60 carries this year. I think we'll be fine.
"We've got some options back there," continued the REL head coach. "It's not like the well is dry, we've just got our first two out."
The Cavaliers will have their hands full defensively, especially with their leading tackler sidelined. Orangeburg loves to run the football and is led by Will Summers in the backfield. The Indians' quarterback, Will Shaw, can also run a bit and the Indians will pass enough to keep defenses off balance.
"They're a very physical, power football team, and they'll throw it some," said Rankin. "They run multiple formations. They'll spread it out and try to throw it and they'll get in there with three backs in the backfield and run at you, so it's kind of a mixed bag of stuff and we'll have to play it all really well."
With the number of things Orangeburg Prep likes to do offensively, Rankin said the biggest thing the Cavaliers can do is control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and make tackles when the opportunities arise.
"We've just got to block and tackle better than them," said Rankin. "If you don't block and tackle, you can't win. We've just got to tackle better. Some of the teams they've played, when you get them in space, you're in trouble. We've got to get them before they get started, don't let them get in space and see if we can hit them when they get in space."
OP also likes to bring the heat on the defensive side of the ball. They put bodies at the line of scrimmage and bring a lot of pressure, which will provide an interesting challenge for REL.
"They're 3-5 and they blitz. Some people don't handle that well. We'll have a little plan for it, and we'll see how we do with it," Rankin said. "They come after it. They're big and strong and they can cover on the back end pretty good. They're 7-2 for a reason."
Despite the pressure that Orangeburg Prep likes to bring mixed with injuries in the backfield, Rankin doesn't plan to change his team's identity this week.
"We're going to do what we do, run our power and counter, get outside, give it to Jet Smith a little bit at quarterback and we'll throw it a little bit," said Rankin. "We don't change a whole lot of what we do, we just adapt and change up our blocking scheme a little bit and get after it."
Rankin knows the Cavaliers have the deck stacked against them with their injuries heading into the playoffs, but he's also confident in his team's ability to step up and keep their season alive.
"No excuses," said the REL head coach. "You've just gotta get out there and play."
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