October 16, 2009 8:56:00 AM
Greg Watkins isn''t going to hide the truth from his players.
Instead, the Hebron Christian football coach has been upfront with the Eagles and told them they have to beat Immanuel Christian at 7:30 tonight in a Mississippi Association of Independent Schools A District 3 game if they want to make the playoffs.
The Eagles'' job still wouldn''t be done if they accomplish that goal.
Hebron Christian (2-5, 0-1) then would have to beat Winona Christian, which is 2-0 in the district, to force a possible three-way tie atop the district with Central Holmes.
The playoff implications should add a little drama to the senior night festivities at Hebron Christian, but Watkins doesn''t feel his team will be distracted.
"The guys are realizing that if they focus on each play and don''t try to make things happen it will be all right," Watkins said.
Hebron Christian is coming off a 28-18 victory against Carroll Academy last week that Watkins said helped his players see they don''t need to try too hard to make a big play.
The Eagles were content with taking what the defense gave then, even if it only meant gaining a handful of yards. Those yards added up, though, and helped Hebron Christian forget a 14-8 loss to Central Holmes on Oct. 2.
That district loss put the Eagles into a must-win situation tonight against the Rams (1-6, 0-1), who are coming off a 39-0 loss to Heidelburg.
Watkins feels the Eagles should be fine if they limit their mistakes and play disciplined football, like they did last week. He said running backs J.D. Edwards, Marques Robinson, and Ryan Pinnix played well last week with quarterback Yance Falkner.
Watkins said all of the Eagles'' skill position players are gaining valuable experience after not seeing a lot of game action last season. With each week, he said the team gets more comfortable and confident it can have success if it remains patient.
"(Last wee), we took advantage of some things they were doing defensively and our guys ran the ball well and blocked well," Watkins said. "We didn''t try to overplay our offense. We did what we''re capable of doing and it turned out good."
Watkins said the Eagles will rely primarily on a running game. If the Rams decide to stack players at the line of scrimmage to try to stop the run, he said Falkner is more than capable of mixing in a pass to wide receivers Jordan Jackson and Blake Harrell.
The strong play of an offensive line that features center Ryan Foster, right guard Kevin Simmons, right tackle Mark Long, left guard Ryan Tennyson, and left tackle Jacob Crow also should help the Eagles move the ball.
"I told them after the Central Holmes game we don''t have to have any long runs," Watkins said. "After Friday night I think they saw what we''re capable of doing (in an offense that is averaging more than 200 yards rushing per game) with the system we''re running. Hopefully after Friday night they understand that concept."
Immanuel Christian coach Shawn Gates said his team''s job will be to make the Eagles uncomfortable. The first-year coach has dealt with a host of injuries this season, but he said his players have remained focused and have showed incredible toughness.
"They have done a really good job and there has been a lot of improvement," Gates said. "We have a young group. We only have two seniors this year, and when my kids move up from the ninth and the 10th grade, we will be a good team next year."
But Gates isn''t writing off this season. He knows a win tonight and another victory against Central Holmes on Oct. 23 will put the Rams in the mix for a playoff spot. The top two teams in the district will advance to the playoffs.
Gates praised the play of Michael Tate, who has been the Rams'' feature back. The running back has battled injuries this season, but Gates said he has "pushed through" his aches and pains to be a leader for his teammates.
Gates also said offensive lineman/fullback/linebacker Dustin White has emerged as a team leader and that tight end Justin James has "come a long way" since the beginning of the season.
With so much riding on the game for both teams, Gates knows tonight''s game will be tough.
"It''s going to be a dogfight," Gates said. "It''s going to be which team wants it the most. If we show up and play tough we should be OK."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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