October 31, 2013 8:01:55 PM
Another week, another must-win situation.
The good news for the New Hope High School football team is it went to Lewisburg last week and cleared the first hurdle to get back to the postseason.
There's more good news this week in the sense New Hope will be at home for its second hurdle. The flip side is New Hope (4-5, 2-3 Class 5A, Region 1) will play host to West Point (5-4, 3-2), which is riding a three-game winning streak. The winner will improve their chances of earning one of the region's three other playoffs spots behind undefeated Oxford.
New Hope has lost its last seven meetings to West Point dating back to 2007, when the teams resumed their rivalry after a hiatus that lasted several seasons.
On paper, the matchup is simple. New Hope will try to find a way to do what opponents haven't been able to do: stop senior running back Aeris Williams. The Mississippi State commitment has rushed for 1,697 yards and 21 touchdowns. West Point will try to shut down a passing attack led by quarterback Brady Davis. The junior threw two touchdowns and ran for another to help New Hope rally for a 21-20 victory against Lewisburg.
New Hope first-year head coach Shawn Gregory, who was an assistant coach on the team that lost to West Point 38-7 last season, knows what the Green Wave will throw at his team. It is just a matter of executing on both sides of the ball.
"We have to keep everything in front of us and we have to tackle well," Gregory said. "We can't let their guy (Williams) beat us. We all know who that is. He is going to get his yardage. We can't let him take control of the game. Offensively, we just have to quit beating ourselves. We are not going into the game with a whole lot of stuff. We are going to keep it simple."
Gregory said New Hope tried a similar strategy last week and had success. Davis hit Victor Deloach with a 62-yard touchdown and another for 28 yards that proved to be the game-winner. He feels the Trojans gained confidence from an attack that mixed it up and slowed it down from earlier in the season when the team tried to go with an up-tempo approach. Gregory said New Hope still can go slow, but he said it has opted to slow it down in an attempt to get everyone on the same page and to limit mistakes. Last week, it worked.
"They did a lot better," Gregory said. "I noticed the receivers were running routes harder and they were a lot more sure of themselves. A lot of times with things being carded in by the cards above me and the signals here and there, they have to look at two different things and make sure they get it. If they don't get it, we are in a world of trouble. We have figured out where the mistakes are coming from and now we have to execute."
This week, he said the Trojans will have to battle a confident opponent that will try to dictate the tempo and style of the game.
"It is going to be huge," Gregory said. "They are pretty big up front on both sides of the ball, so it is going to be huge that we protect him and give him time. That is something we haven't been real good at all year. In order for us to have a chance, he is going to have to be able to do what he needs to do. If we can do that, I like our chances in a way. If they get to him, we are going to have to do something different. That is not what we want to do. We want to be able to do what we want to game plan wise. If we can continue that, I think we will have a great night."
Part of having a great night will mean staying in short-yardage situations on third down. Ideally, Gregory said the Trojans would like to face plenty of third-and-4s so they're not pressured to make big play after big play. He also hoped New Hope will be able to put plays together and take what the defense gives it to stay on the field and to keep Williams and teammates Josh Ewing (five touchdowns) and Lacequiu Sparks (six) on the sideline.
"Everything we have been preaching all year is going to have to surface up this week," Gregory said. "We haven't had a whole lot of success against West Point in a long time. For our seniors, our kids have to come ready to play."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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