September 17, 2009 12:00:00 PM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
The "preseason" is nearly over.
That''s why Columbus High School football coach Bubba Davis is excited about his team''s matchup at 7:30 p.m. Friday against Class 4A Louisville High.
The Wildcats (3-1) enter tonight''s game with victories against two teams -- Starkville and Tupelo -- the Falcons (1-2) will see later this season in Class 6A, Region 1, District 2 play.
Louisville, which captured the last two Class 3A state titles before being moved up in the state''s reclassification, beat Starkville 26-21 and Tupelo 20-17.
Even though the Wildcats lost do-everything performer Dennis Thames (now at Mississippi State), defensive end Malcolm Kincaid (East Central Community College) and 16 other seniors who saw action last season, Davis knows his team will have to be ready.
"They''re still pretty good," Davis said. "They have a real big receiver (senior Markese Triplett). He will be the best receiver we have seen to this point. They have some big linemen who are athletic and who run well, so not a whole lot has changed down there."
Quitman surprised Louisville 42-25 on Sept. 4, but Davis believes Louisville would win the next nine matchups in the series.
He said the Falcons will have to contain senior quarterback Chris Wraggs, who led the Wildcats past Tylertown in the Class 3A title game last year, and senior wide receiver Jordan Christion and junior wide receiver Tajh Ford.
"They expect to win and they believe they''re going to win," Davis said. "That''s their mind-set, and as long as you have that mind-set you have a chance."
Davis said his team continues to chase that attitude coming out of the bye week. He likes the physical style of play the Falcons have adopted and believes the team needs a key victory to help it believe in itself.
"We have improved every week," Davis said. "Physically I think we are where we need to be. We have got to find a way to feel the urgency and to understand we can be pretty good and that we have to go out and perform on Friday nights. We can''t rest when we''re out there."
Louisville High coach Brad Peterson said his team won''t take the Falcons lightly.
"Columbus is a lot better," Peterson said. "We are impressed with them on film. They have big kids. They are a lot bigger than we are, and they are physical and they have got enough speed. There is a missing ingredient there and the coaches know it. Once they get that going I think have all of the ingredients to have a great football team. Once they get it clicking I think they will be a team to be dealt with. It may start this week. We''re expecting it to."
If it does, Peterson hopes his team will be ready. He said the Wildcats aren''t doing anything differently than how they did things the past two seasons when they won Class 3A titles.
The graduation loss of players like Thames and quarterback Clayton Moore, who is a walk on at the University of Mississippi, might have affected the team''s quick-strike capabilities, but Peterson said Louisville still has plenty of weapons.
Wraggs, who is a threat running and passing, is more apt to break of gains of 5 and 6 yards at a time, which might not be appealing to some fans who prefer 50- and 60-yard scoring strikes.
In the past two seasons, those touchdowns would pile up and help the Wildcats record resounding victories.
This season, the margins have been closer, but Peterson knows a win is a win, regardless of the score.
"I don''t think our identity is going to be that we are going to blow a lot of people out," Peterson said. "I just know how people are (and I am sure they feel like we) are winning games and not winning games bad enough. We''re not blowing people out."
Peterson said the Wildcats still have plenty of things to tweak to ensure they are peaking at the right time. He said some players are showing the physical nature the team needs to be successful, while others aren''t.
Peterson said Louisville is giving the effort, which is a building block he plans to use as the team prepares for its district schedule.
"Our kids are struggling a little bit right now, but they want to get it fixed and we want to get it fixed," Peterson said. "I feel like we''re doing everything we can and they are doing everything they can."
Peterson said a defense that is still trying to find its identity will be without defensive back Blake Cunningham, one of his most physical players, for up to three weeks.
But Peterson said a benefit of coaching at a tradition rich football program like Louisville, which has won seven state titles in as many tries, is the players have confidence things will go their way.
"They believe they''re going to win every Friday night," Peterson said. "As crazy as it sounds, they realize this is the preseason. They know games are important, but they also know these are preseason games to find some weaknesses and to get better. They realize that once division play starts they have to crank it up another notch, and that once the playoffs start they really have to crank it up a notch.
"But we can''t put it off. We have to play hard and get better every week. We can''t wait to turn it up for the big game. If that happens we''re not going to win."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.