October 30, 2013 10:00:23 PM
Two days in and Hunter Austin already can tell the difference.
"There's definitely a different feeling at practice. We're not timid," Austin said. "I think it will be a different game on our side."
Now it will be up to Austin and the Victory Christian Academy football team to make sure the third meeting of the season against Tuscaloosa Christian lives up to those words.
If Austin and the Eagles prove those comments to be true, they will come home with a championship.
At 7 p.m. Friday, Victory Christian (7-3) and Tuscaloosa Christian (6-4) will meet in Cottondale, Ala., to decide the Christian Football Association title. Tuscaloosa Christian enters the matchup armed with the confidence from a 38-32 overtime victory and a 40-12 victory in the regular-season finale.
But records and past results often don't matter when it comes to the playoffs. Austin and his teammates hope that is the case when they play their second game of the season on Tuscaloosa Christian's home field.
"We're going to have to jump on them early and keep taking it to them and keep hitting them hard at the start," said Austin, a senior.
Victory Christian coach Chris Hamm said a fast start would grab Tuscaloosa Christian's attention and create doubt as to whether it could sweep all three games. Coming off a 27-18 victory against Tabernacle in the semifinals of the CFA playoffs, Hamm feels his team has regrouped from the second loss to Tuscaloosa Christian, which came on Homecoming in Columbus.
"What we have tried to emphasize this week is it is Victory week," Hamm said. "It is all about us and our performance. We believe that if we focus on Victory and what we're supposed to do, victory is going to take care of itself. We're not talking about any other name for this week as far as the opponent or the game. This is just Victory week."
Buoyed by a 16-tackle effort by Austin and 10 more tackles from senior Austin Richardson, Victory Christian's defense stood tall after the team fell behind 6-0 at halftime and 12-2 early in the second half. A double-barreled running attack of Cody Bolton (13 carries, 168 yards, two touchdowns) and Will Jones (14, 104, two TDs) helped the Eagles make up for the absence of junior running back Anthony Sharp.
Hamm said Wednesday that Sharp isn't out and that he hopes Sharp can play. He also expects senior lineman Brandon Shaw, who hurt his knee in the second game against Tuscaloosa Christian and came on in the second half against Tabernacle to provide a spark, to play.
By focusing on Victory, Hamm hopes his team will concentrate on its execution and not worry about all of the hype surrounding playing an archrival for a championship. He isn't sure how a young team will be able to do that, but he agrees with Austin that a fast start would boost his team's confidence.
"It is going to take everyone doing their part," Hamm said. "It is about everyone pulling together. I don't want Anthony or Hunter or Brandon going in thinking, 'I have to win this game.' I also don't want the rest of the guys standing round thinking, 'We're waiting on him to win the game for us.'
"Pulling together as a team and everybody realizing it is not on my shoulders alone and I have to do my part and whatever role you're supposed to be performing, everybody has to work together. That is the way to win the game."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.