BATTLE ROYALE: Champions set to take on surging Vikings
Add one part surging team on the rise and one part team hungry for a bounce back win and the final product is likely to be explosive.
Throw in the fact that it's homecoming for the team hoping for a bounce back win, and the result could go nuclear.
That's exactly what's on deck for Friday night's showdown between the Cascade Champions (5-2, 2-1 9-A) and the Community Vikings (3-4, 2-2 9-A).
"It's a big game for the kids in this county for the fact they all know each other. That part of it makes it a rivalry," said Community coach Johnnie Frost.
"It's a big district game. We can't afford to get too far behind in the district race. We're treating this like a must-win as far as playoff standings," said Cascade coach Kenny Parker.
Community has been a squad on the rise among the District 9-A teams over the last two weeks. Two weeks ago, the Vikings blew out MTCS 44-0 for the first district win of the season. They followed up with a 41-21 win over the Huntland Hornets to win two-straight district games for the first time in school history.
Cascade, meanwhile, had to face its toughest task of the season so far during last week's showdown against the unbeaten Moore County Raiders.
While the Champs held a late lead, the Raiders were able to rally for the 16-13 win.
With just three games left on the 2012 schedule, it's becoming more and more of a scramble among the district teams to secure wins in order to clinch a spot in the 2012 state playoffs.
A win for the Vikings sets up a strong finish, with teams like Moore County and King's Academy left on the schedule this year.
While a win for the Champs helps solidify a top place among the district, Cascade has an all-out gauntlet in the final games of the season with showdowns looming against the Eagleville Eagles and the Forrest Rockets.
While a win on Friday could have huge implications for either squad, Frost and Parker are approaching the game just like another game on the schedule.
"We still have to treat it like all the other games and do the things we do each and every week. We have to work at the things you have to get better on and continue to improve on the things you're already good at," Frost said.
"We have to play good defense and we have to throw the ball a little bit better than we did last week. We have to play fundamentally sound football," Parker said.
While Cascade owns the rivalry's record so far, the veteran-laden Vikings are poised for their strongest run at the Champions yet.
Community brings an arsenal of offensive threats to the Stable on Friday night in running back Austin Lees, all-state wide receiver Zack James, and quarterback Quinn Frost.
But the Champs have their own number of assets on the offensive side of the ball as well. Bruising running back Creed Rose has been the offensive workhorse for the Champs all season. Just last week, he accounted for 207 yards of Champion real estate against the Moore County Raiders on 41 carries.
Cascade freshman quarterback Chandler Sulcer also proved his efficiency with the pass game as well, making good on 2-of-2 passing attempts.
While the Champs only went to the air twice, both gains were of 20-plus yards.
On the line
In order for the Champs to get a stop on the three-headed monster the Viking offense brings to the table, Parker places a lot of faith in the boys up front.
"When they have a little bit of speed you want to control the line of scrimmage and move the football-- sort of like we did last week. Just have to play fundamentally sound. We have to secure the football, which is what we didn't do last week. It's going to be a tough football game. They've come a long way in their program," he said.
While the Champs are focusing on controlling the line, Frost and the Vikings are taking their defensive approach to more of a fundamental level in slowing down Rose and Cascade's charging run game.
"You have to be able to play your defensive scheme and keep your gap control and wrap up. I've noticed he's hard to tackle. A lot of teams have made initial contact at or beyond the line of scrimmage and he's been able to turn them into good-sized gains. We have to focus on doing a good job tackling. We have to be able to fly to the football," Frost said.
In last year's meeting, the Champs pulled away in the second half after being tied following two quarters to play.
Cascade's veteran team simply out-gunned the Vikings to take the 41-32 win.
But this year, the tables are turned as the Vikings bring veteran leadership to the table.
The right balance
Frost's game plan for taking on the Champs is to continue playing Community's game plan with a balanced approach.
Last week, Lees went for 362 all-purpose yards against the Huntland Hornets and piled up five touchdowns.
"We have to have a balanced attack. We've done a really good job of that, even though last week relied more on the run. We have to play our game and use our explosiveness to our benefit. We're pretty explosive and we need to continue to play our game and not try to do something we're not," Frost said.
Cascade, on the other hand, will likely look to put the ball in Rose's hands for the bulk of the ground attack. While the Champs have other assets, Rose often makes up for a majority of the rushing yards by the Champs.
Parker wants to keep his plan simple as far as taking on the Vikings.
"We can't turn the ball over," he said.
Last week the Champs had a pair of costly fumbles against the Raiders, but have worked on ball protection this week.
With a potential trip to the postseason on the line, the Vikings and Champs will line up for the opening kickoff on Friday night at 7 p.m. at the Stable.