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The football teams of Laurence Manning Academy and Wilson Hall come into their regular-season-finale matchup as two very different teams.
LMA is in the midst of a dominant season at 8-1, with their lone loss coming to the top team in SCISA 3A, Hammond. The Swampcats are second in 3A with a 6-1 record.
Wilson Hall, meanwhile, sits with an overall record of 2-6 and a 1-6 3A mark, though they're fresh off a 44-0 drubbing of Thomas Sumter Academy.
Four different players scored offensive touchdowns for WH against TSA. The Barons also intercepted two passes and recovered a pair of fumbles. The well-rounded game was an important confidence boost as they prepare for LMA.
"The last few games, we've kind of found a way to not win," said WH head coach Adam Jarecki. "We'd play well up to a certain point, and then we'd turn the ball over or do something to find a way to lose it. We needed some confidence and we needed success. It gives us kind of a boost going into this last week."
LMA needed a bounce-back win after losing to Hammond two weeks ago. The Swampcats did just that, as they rolled past Pinewood Prep 34-6.
Wyatt Rowland ran for 108 yards and a score, while Trey Sharpe found the end zone three times on the ground on just four carries. Rowland and Mickey Jordan each intercepted a pass.
LMA head coach Austin Floyd knows his team now needs to build on that win, as the playoffs begin next week for the second-seeded Swampcats.
"The Hammond game kind of reset us. They're a great team, and they do a lot of good, and they're extremely talented and well coached, but we didn't play our best ball, and that was kind of frustrating," said Floyd. "We kind of got back to basics a little bit last week, and we're trying to continue to build."
Both teams come with explosive options on the ground, and Jarecki knows that if the Barons want to stop LMA, they need to limit Rowland and the Swampcats' explosive plays.
"We can't let them get big plays," said Jarecki. "They've got a couple of players that are capable of big plays. The quarterback, Burgess Jordan, is a very good quarterback, throws the ball well, runs well, and he can get the ball to his playmakers. Of course, Wyatt Rowland is a special kid. He's kind of the one that they move around, and a lot of things revolve around him and he does a good job."
Wilson Hall isn't short on players who can make big plays either. Graham VanPatten and Emory Moore have both been electric for the Barons, and Floyd knows tackling those two in particular will be crucial to LMA's success.
"We've gotta tackle. We've gotta get off blocks and tackle and play our keys," said the LMA head coach. "Option football, even with what we do, it's about keeping your assignments. We've gotta make sure we've got our gaps covered, and when we have opportunities to make tackles, we have to make them.
"I love the VanPatten kid," continued Floyd. "I think he's one of the better players in 3A. He has been this year, even though they've had a poor year. He breaks tackles, he's where he's supposed to be, and I think the Moore kid, as well, they're probably their best two players. I have a ton of respect for both of those kids."
While this game likely won't have much of an impact on the playoff picture, a win would be big for both teams. Floyd mentioned the importance of momentum heading into the playoffs.
"I told our guys and I told you at the beginning of the year, we have to be playing our best football in November and, if I'm not mistaken, Friday is Nov. 1," said Floyd. "We don't want to be going into the playoffs on a bad note."
While a win might not help the Barons make the playoffs, Jarecki knows his young team can build toward the future with a good game on Friday.
"We're trying to build it up, and we want to find as many positives as we can and to finish off this season with a win. We know this wasn't the season that we wanted, and it wasn't the record that we wanted, but if we can finish out on a high note, that would build into next season. We just want something positive, to finish off on a high note."
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