October 30, 2013 9:58:45 PM
STEENS -- Load up the energy and enthusiasm.
The Immanuel Christian School football team is going to need extra doses of both because it will face two huge assignments at 7 p.m. Friday. First, the Rams will have to travel nearly five hours and almost 300 miles to Natchez to play a football game. Second, Immanuel Christian will have to prepare itself to face top-seeded Natchez Trinity Episcopal in the opening round of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class A playoffs.
It remains to be seen which of those two tasks will be tougher. Needless to say, Immanuel Christian coach Greg Watkins hopes his team, which is coming off a 28-26 loss to Deer Creek last week, can bounce back from a narrow loss that cost it a chance to win the District 2 title and earn a higher seed that would have enabled it to avoid the state's top team in its classification.
"Whenever our season ends, we want to end it with us being on the field playing with that attitude and that mentality," Watkins said. "I couldn't be prouder of a group because they have grown up a whole lot over the past three years. This year, I have seen them progress and regress a little bit. Toward the end of the year, you have seen them kind of grow up and take a little responsibility and know what it feels to play in big games, so next year when we're playing some of these opponents we really didn't get up for, we will know what it is like to be playing in the big games like that."
Watkins said the Rams (4-6) played with more fire and desire than they had played with all year in nearly securing the school's first 11-man district crown. Immanuel Christian nearly pulled off the go-ahead touchdown on a disguised pass attempt only to have a Deer Creek player tip the pass to a wide-open receiver with about three minutes remaining in the game.
Watkins said the team discussed how good it felt to come out and to play like that in such a big game. He said the effort gave his players confidence to know they can compete. His hope is the Rams can carry that emotion and belief on such a long bus ride onto the field against a powerful opponent.
Trinity Episcopal (9-0) has a v44-18 victory against Centreville Academy, one of the top teams in Class AA. A year ago, Trinity Episcopal played in Class AA. Trinity Episcopal ended the regular season with four shutouts, a 36-7 victory against River Oaks (La.) and a forfeit against Tallulah Academy (La.).
Watkins has watched plenty of film from Trinity Episcopal games, so he knows his team faces a challenge. He feels the team has learned it needs to deliver constant effort from the opening whistle, which is something it didn't do in non-district losses at the end of the regular season that have contributed to the team's three-game losing streak.
With five seniors and plenty of players set to return next season, Watkins sees Friday's game as an ideal building block for 2014. He also sees it as a wonderful opportunity for his players to do something no one expects them to do.
"As far as getting the effort and the desire, I think it is there," Watkins said. "I think we took a big step. The opponent, on the other hand, is going to be a little better than what we faced this past Friday. We're going to have to bring that type of effort and fire. We're going to have to play the best game we have played all year."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
1. New Hope boys' basketball falls in Class 5A playoffs HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
2. Starkville boys denied return trip to Jackson HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. West Lowndes boys earn third straight trip to Jackson HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS