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Eagles still trying to find right combination

By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
Friday's 18-7 loss at Pike County left a bitter taste in the mouth of W.S. Neal Blue coach Shane Smothers. The fact it dropped his team to 0-2 overall and 0-1 in Class 3A Region 1 was just part of the frustration.
"Last year we lost our region opener to Pike County and then rebounded to finish third. We even had an outside shot of winning the region until week eight. I don't like losing, but that wasn't what disturbed me the most," Smothers said. "From a physical end, I thought we were prepared for Pike County. From a mental standpoint, we weren't. Our focus and intensity wasn't what it needed to be. That's my fault."
While that setback still stings, that game is now in the rearview mirror. Smothers and the Blue Eagles have now shifted their focus towards Friday's Class 3A Region 1 road game against the Slocomb Redtops. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
Slocomb is hardly a good place for the Blue Eagles to cure their ailments. The Redtops were an Elite Eight team in Class 2A last year and a state semifinalist two years ago. So far this year in its move up to Class 3A, Slocomb has downed Geneva County 31-7 in week one and Headland 28-7 last week in its Region 1 opener.
"Sometimes it takes a year or two for a program to adjust when it moves up in classification, but not Slocomb. They're a traditionally strong program. This is the last year for their longtime coach (Dwight Lee) and I'm sure they want him to go out right," Smothers said.
With just 25 sophomores through seniors on their roster, the Redtops do not have a lot of depth.
"They aren't deep and they have a lot of two-way players, but that first unit is pretty good. We're going to need our 'A' game in order to beat them," Smothers said.
Slocomb's top two offensive threats have been running back Ty Jones (5-10, 185 lb. sr.) and quarterback Justin Myles (6-0, 182 lb. jr.).
"Jones is a speedster out of the backfield. He is a lot like (James) Jackson at Pike County except he is a little bigger. We've got to a do a good job of containment against him. Myles is a very dangerous quarterback. He can throw on a rollout or he can run with the ball. He has a pretty good supporting cast of skill players. Slocomb also has a lot of quickness along its line," Smothers said.
Slocomb's defense has allowed just two touchdowns so far on the season.
"They run a 4-4 and 5-3 defense They will mix up their defense with man and zone. Their secondary has a lot of speed and they have a great linebacker in Bernard Mitchell (6-2, 190 lb. jr.)," Smothers said.
Meanwhile the Blue Eagles are looking for any kind of spark. That spark may come in the form of some lineup changes this week.
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"We're going to shuffle some things up. We're going to insert some players we know we can count on to give us everything they have every play. Some players fans aren't used to seeing will be in there a lot more and some players fans are used to seeing won't be in there as much," Smothers said.
A good starting point in the spark department would be from the offense, which has produced just 282 yards and two touchdowns in two games.
"We've got to do a better job sustaining our offense. We haven't done a good job in third down situations (5-for-20). (Eleven) Penalties really hurt us last week. We've got to do a better job of capitalizing on our opportunities," Smothers said. "We have given up a couple of long touchdown runs in these first two games, but for the most part our defense has played pretty respectable."
Injuries, both new and old, continue to plague the Blue Eagles. The strangest twist was a spider bite on the hip of tight end/linebacker Cory Freeman.
"Cory won't be able to practice for a while and he can't play as long as their is a lot of redness around the bite area. We'll just have to wait and see how quickly he recovers. (Running back/linebacker) Jake Bailey probably played a lot more Friday than he should have with the ankle sprain he suffered a couple of weeks ago. He won't practice all week. (Quarterback) Marquis Barksdale is still out with the hip pointer. Health is a big problem for us right now. We need for some others to step things up until we get them back," Smothers said.