Cardinals’ home turf will challenge Lions’ ‘road warrior’ status

Cardinals’ home turf will challenge Lions’ ‘road warrior’ status

Posted: Friday, November 25, 2011 12:01 pm

By KEVIN WEAKS
Press Sports
The “road warriors” are heading right into one heck of a homefield advantage.
“Someone told me the other day that we are 17-2 at home the last few years,” Adamsville head coach Brandon Gray said. “We feel pretty good about playing at home. The kids play hard here.”
“Here” is Lendon Martin Stadium, and Cardinal fans will begin arriving there the morning of the game to mark their spots to sit.
West Main Street — part of the highway between Adamsville and Selmer and the location of Adamsville High School — will be lined with parked cars in both directions by kickoff.
Dresden will invade this stretch of land, trying to make it the latest conquered territory.
While Adamsville is nearly unbeatable at home, the Lions have been unstoppable on the road.
Dresden has won all its road games this year, a run that includes three in the playoffs — trips to McKenzie, Humboldt and Memphis.
With all that as the background, Dresden and Adamsville will meet Friday night in the semifinals of the TSSAA Class 2A football state playoffs. At stake: A trip to Cookeville for the state championship.
“It hasn’t affected us so far,” Dresden head coach Scott Hewett said of loading up the bus for a Friday road trip this season. “We just have to keep doing the things we’ve been doing all year.”
For the second straight week, the Dresden entourage will arrive in style as a chartered bus has been reserved for the trip.
Adamsville will look to a large group of upperclassmen, a talented and experienced set of skill players and huge linemen on both sides of the ball in an effort to make Dresden’s next trip its last one of 2011.
The Cardinals’ 70-plus roster features 19 seniors and 22 juniors, and this 12th-grade class is the first to go through Gray’s program from the beginning of middle school.
They have endured grueling workouts designed to develop character and build stamina, both key ingredients in winning the fourth quarter.
With a large roster of talented players, Gray is also able to rest people almost every snap.
“We have good depth,” Gray said. “We’re constantly rotating our linemen. We have almost enough depth to have separate starting squads.”
Adamsville will rely mainly on a running game that is producing 255.9 yards-per-game and has put up 32 touchdowns.
A trio of stellar ball-carriers leads the way, headed by Zak Neary. The 6-foot, 176-pound sophomore has rushed for 1,248 yards and eight touchdowns.
Gray uses modern language to describe his leading rusher.
“If you Google ‘football player,’ Gray said, “his picture ought to come up. He came to me earlier this season and asked me how he could get better. I wanted to know why he was asking, and he said ‘I have these three freshmen right behind me.’ I told him to just keep doing what he was doing and play hard.”
Taylor Alexander is the speedster of the group and has put up 746 yards and six touchdowns, while Hayden Reese sees the field well and has 522 yards and five TDs on 59 carries.
Adamsville has thrown for 1,159 yards and 18 TDs with just six interceptions. The quarterback, though, is a game manager first. In Dalton Plunk, the Cards have a good one with the right pedigree.
Plunk, a 6-1, 134-pound junior who is 43-of-83 for 785 yards and 14 TDs this season, is a second generation state semifinalist as his dad was the QB on the 1985 Adamsville team that reached this point of the season.
“He’s a good manager,” Gray said. “He doesn’t put us in bad situations and is like a coach on the field for us. He played some as an eighth-grader and started a game his freshman year. He knows where everybody’s supposed to be and what they’re supposed to do.”
Plunk has two good, if perhaps under-used, targets in Jalen Kendal and Josh Shoate. Kendal has 29 catches for 436 yards and nine touchdowns, while Shoate has pulled in 24 passes for 520 yards and five scores.
“We have 6-6 (Kendal) on one side and 6-3 (Shoate) on the other, and they will both go up and get it,” Gray said. “We probably do them an injustice because we don’t throw enough. They can make plays, so a team has to cover the whole field against us.”
Linebackers John Blakley and Josh Burks lead the defense with 73 and 70 tackles, respectively, while John Reed Odom’s five pick-offs top a secondary that has 14 interceptions this season.
Adamsville can also win a game by a foot, as kicker Dustin Plunk proved in a 17-14 second round win over Cascade. Running the two-minute drill to perfection — after spending much of a 21-day layoff between their final regular season game and first playoff game working on that very thing — the Cards drove down the field and put the game in the younger Plunk’s hands, uh, leg.
The holiday week can become a distraction as the students are on a radically different school schedule, most schools dismissed the final three days of the week. That can change sleep patterns and practice schedules for teams heading into the semifinal round.
Gray say the key is planning ahead and keeping players informed of each detail.
“Any coach hates his routine being messed up,” the Adamsville skipper said. “But, we’ve been through it before and were pretty successful. We played McKenzie the week of Fall Break (a 47-22 Cardinal win). You just have to make sure your kids know everything in advance. You have to communicate the schedule with them so they know where they need to be.
“We’ll come in early on Thanksgiving morning for practice and again Friday morning for a workout. We don’t want the kids laying around all day. Our kids will know exactly what our schedule is. They will know where to be at 1:30, they’ll know we have a team meal at 3, they’ll know when we have a speaker coming in.
Hewett echoed those thoughts, pointing out the changes in his team’s routine as well. Dresden practiced at 1 p.m. on Wednesday then had a morning session slated for today and another one on Friday before going to Richie and Reggie’s for a team meal.
But, Gray also noted the obvious to his team, while Hewett wanted to make sure his players understood the significance of this week.
“I told our players that it’s a good thing if you’re still practicing on Thanksgiving day,” Gray said.
“I hope the kids understand what this means,” Hewett said. “We’ve had a lot of firsts this season. The main thing is don’t be satisfied. Stay hungry.”
The holiday isn’t the only distraction. Hewett said injuries affect practice plans, and wet weather can alter the schedule, too.
“The thing about it is this,” Gray said, summing up the week of preparation and all that goes with it. “Somebody from West Tennessee is going to play for a state championship. These are two rural schools, and I think that’s great.” Published in The WCP 11.24.11

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