October 1, 2010 2:46:00 PM
The logjam that is the Class 2A, Region 2, District 4 race begins tonight.
On paper, at least two coaches agree East Webster (6-0) and Eupora (3-2) figure to be at the the head of the pack of the six-team fight for four playoff spots.
Hamilton (3-3) and West Lowndes (3-2) will try to settle their part of the discussion at 7 tonight when they meet in Columbus, while East Webster will play host to Eupora in another pivotal opener.
East Webster coach Jimmy Carden isn''t sure he agrees with Hamilton coach Ray Weeks and West Lowndes coach Bobby Berry that his team is one of the district''s top dogs, but he likes how the Wolverines have come together.
"We hoped to be at this point, and we knew we would have some tough games against Bruce and Vardaman and West Oktibbeha, which is pretty good, and so far we have played fairly well," Carden said. "The offense is running pretty well and the defense kind of has been in a bend, not break mold."
A year ago, East Webster reached this point with a 4-2 record. A late-season surge turned what had looked to be an early end to the season into a deep run in the playoffs. The confidence-boosting run ended with a loss to eventual state champion Ackerman, but Carden said that experience gave his players a taste of what they could do this season.
Now a year older, bigger, and stronger, the Wolverines are making the most of it. Led by Ledrick Patterson, Demetrius O''Briant, and Timakis Bell on offense, East Webster has the versatility to run option or to grind it out.
Carden praised the play of linebacker Xavier Moye on defense. On offense, he said linemen Charles Mosely, Brody White, Colby Williamson, Austin Harrison, and the rest of the boys up front for paving the way.
"They have been really taking care of business," Carden said. "Our offensive line has been a strong point all year. These guys are taking over ballgames."
Carden feels Eupora will be in the mix at the top of the district. He feels Ackerman (1-5) and J.Z. George (2-4) also will be heard from even though they might be off to slower starts.
As for his team, Carden said he expected East Webster to have potential after it lost six players from last year and figured to return 15 or 16 seniors. The leadership has helped the Wolverines realize that talent, but Carden said the team has plenty more work to do.
"They have the opportunity to do some things we haven''t got done here," said Carden, whose team lost in the Class 1A title game in 2006. They encourage each other quite a bit without saying much.
"We have a lot of goals. If you don''t have goals and plans you tend to sit where you are. We have a lot of things on our check list and we''re working toward accomplishing those things."
Berry, whose team is coming off a bye week following a loss to Class 3A power Philadelphia, said his team will have a tough task against Hamilton. He said the Lions have a lot of size and plenty of weapons on offense, including Austin Welch, Zarratt Sims, and Cojuante McMillian, that will present matchup concerns.
Berry hopes his quarterback combination of Gerald Sanders and Tyquan Lucious, who is back after missing games early in the season with a foot injury, and running back Antonio Wilson will be equally difficult to stop.
Wilson has been the team''s workhorse, and Berry said the team has progressed well, but maybe not as well as he would have liked considering the number of seniors on the team. He said a key will be getting other players to step into bigger roles to prevent opponents from keying on Wilson. If that happens, Berry said he likes his team''s chances.
"We will be in the mix and, with a little luck, possibly make the playoffs if we go out and really play," Berry said. "We can''t make silly mistakes. I just hope my quarterbacks come through and do fairly well and keep improving."
Weeks also feels his team has the potential to be a playoff contender. After an impressive 42-0 victory against Weir in the season opener, Hamilton lost to Smithville (15-12) and to Hatley (48-35). After victories against Houlka and Caledonia, Weeks feels his team is ready to begin the playoff push.
"I am a little disappointed in our record because I feel we let a couple of games slip away, but, at the same time, I know we have a lot of young guys and they have gotten a lot better in the course of these six weeks," Weeks said. "I think our team has improved from where we started, and I don''t think our record indicates that."
Weeks said the play of Silas Gill, Deion Howard, Will Logan, Cole Richardson, and Quinshay Heard has sparked the defense, while Nick Owens and Kyle Dahlem have helped anchor the offensive line that will have to move on after Tyler Hill was injured last week against Caledonia. He also praised the blocking of Curtis Thompson.
But he said McMillian, Sims, and Welch will dictate a lot of the Lions'' success. He knew Hamilton would have to rely on those three a lot entering the season, and they have showed they are capable of mixing and matching roles to get the job done.
"They are some of the few players we had with experience coming back, so we knew early they would have to carry the load for us, and that is what is happening," Weeks said. "They''re reliable players who have helped some of our younger kids come along. We have really depended on them a lot, not only on the game field but off it."
So how will the district race play out?
Weeks, like Berry, feels East Webster is at the top of the pack with everyone in a bunch looking to take the final three spots.
"I have seen (East Webster) on film and they are big up front and have some great running backs," Weeks said. "Their quarterback (Patterson) runs the option real well and they have a lot of seniors. Across the board they are a very experienced team. They are the team to beat. No doubt."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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