Still feeling sting of shootout, OC, Chargers look for defense

Still feeling sting of shootout, OC, Chargers look for defense
Still feeling sting of shootout, OC, Chargers look for defense | Still feeling sting of shootout, OC, Chargers look for defense
By MIKE HUTCHENS
Messenger Sports Editor
Both teams’ offenses have been an afterthought in the preparations for the Obion Central-Covington rematch — and rightfully so.
After the Rebels and Chargers combined for more than 1,000 yards of total offense and 86 points, Friday’s second round Class 4A playoff game will undoubtedly be decided by defense — or lack thereof.
Sixth-ranked OC will be charged with slowing down a Covington rushing attack that rolled up 512 yards on the ground in knocking the Rebs from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 50-36 triumph four weeks ago in Troy.
The No. 3 Chargers, meanwhile, hardly shut down Central either, giving up 471 yards — almost equally split between the run and pass — to a high-powered Rebel offense that actually wasted a couple of scoring chances and settled for field goals instead of touchdowns on two more possessions.
Covington head coach Marty Wheeler did not mince words when detailing his team’s agenda this week in preparation for the second meeting of teams that share identical 9-2 records.
“We’ve got to be more physical with them defensively. And we definitely have to tackle better,” he said emphatically. “We didn’t do either of those things in the first game, and it almost cost us any chance at winning.
“We have to do a better job against 21 (LaDevin Fair). A lot of people talk about their passing game, but he really sets up a lot of what they do. He runs hard and is elusive, too.”
Indeed, Fair had a monster game the first time around vs. the Chargers, accounting for 315 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns. Of Fair’s total, 223 came on 27 rushes. He had another 232 on the ground in Central’s first-round 46-22 blowout of Fairley last week and has rushed for just over 1,300 yards while scoring 20 TDs in all in his second straight stellar season.
Quarterback Trey Phipps threw for 257 yards and two scores in the teams’ first meeting, but was victimized by several drops. Tanner Cary did have his best receiving game of the season with eight caches for 131 yards — a TD included.
On the flip side, OC head coach Shawn Jackson, who’d been away from the program for 10 days while battling diverticulitis before returning at mid-week before the game, said his defense was the culprit for the loss the first go-round.
“We should’ve been ahead 37-7 at the half,” Jackson insisted. “And even though we didn’t convert offensively several times when we had chances in the first half, we made a dumb call that allowed them to score just before the half and get back in the game. They then got the opening kickoff and scored, then got an onside kick and scored again. That’s three straight possessions they had.
“We couldn’t get them off the field and get our offense back on it. We had almost 500 yards of offense. That should’ve been enough to win any game.”
 An undermanned Rebel defense must somehow corral the three-pronged Covington rushing attack of Johnston White, Colliar Robinson and Terence Pierson.
White has already posted the Chargers’ best-ever seasonal rushing mark with nearly 1,600 yards and had 219 in his team’s earlier victory.
Robinson has also eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the year, while Pierson has nearly 800 yards despite missing four games with an injury.
Jackson said he is considering going with more size up front and committing more people to stop the run.
“We have to stop them before they get started,” he said.
Wheeler acknowledged he expected, “Obion to do some different things to try and take away some of the things we did well the first time. We’ll adjust to how they adjust.”
Neither coach put much stock in the “revenge” factor that will favor Obion Central.
The Covington coach countered any advantage by noting his club was coming off a tough first-round win against a Dyersburg team it had  beaten earlier during the regular season.
And Jackson duly noted the Chargers have just concluded a tough final month’s stretch of games that’s seen them play OC, at Milan and then Dyersburg.
“They’re battle-tested. They’ve been involved in some hard battles, and they’ve won,” the Central skipper said. “We’ve proven to be just bullies so far. We beat up the people we’re supposed to and put up big numbers and great stats in those games, but we haven’t beaten anybody we weren’t supposed to beat yet. We’re the underdog in that sense.”
Also, Jackson said he’s hardly mentioned Central’s chance at making more history in this, a season of many firsts in the 51-year annals of the school. With a victory, the Rebels will become the first team ever at OCCHS to qualify for the quarterfinals.
“We don’t look at history and don’t talk about it much,” he stated. “Our only goal in the playoffs is to meet at the fieldhouse every Saturday morning. That means we’re still playing and we’re getting ready for our next opponent.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at mhutch@ucmessenger.com.
Published in The Messenger 11.9.11

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