Eagles approaching must-win situation

Published 2:35 am Wednesday, September 29, 2004

By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
The calendar says the state football playoffs will begin November 12, but for all intent they probably begin Friday for the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles when they host the Dale County Warriors at 7:30 p.m.
Both W.S. Neal and Dale County are approaching must-win territory in order to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive.
While the Warriors are a respectable 2-2 on the season, they are 1-1 in region play. Dale County's most recent action was Friday's 23-7 non-region victory over Rehobeth.
Meanwhile the Blue Eagles (0-2 in Class 3A Region 1) need a win, period, after they dropped to 0-4 Friday with their 38-14 setback to Trinity Presbyterian.
"While T.R. Miller, Slocomb, Pike County and Straughn are starting to emerge as the top four teams in this region, teams like Dale County and us still have a chance to break into that group. We have to make our move now," W.S. Neal coach Shane Smothers said. "If we lose this game, we're 0-3 in the region and pretty much face a situation where we have to run the table the rest of the season. On top of that, Dale County could be a team we're battling for that last playoff spot and we need the head-to-head tiebreaker."
The Warriors tend to rely on their ground game, which is led by tailback Chaz Thomas (5-11, 245 lb. jr.). Thomas had his best game two weeks ago when he racked up 96 yards against T.R. Miller.
"Bringing down Thomas is like bringing down a truck. He is big, strong and a punishing runner," Smothers said.
While Dale County tends to rely on the run, the Warriors may go more to the air this week with quarterback Michael Johnson (5-9, 148 lb. jr.).
"Johnson isn't very big and playing against a taller line could cause him some problems. He does a good job of spreading the ball around to different receivers. You can't concentrate against just one or two receivers," Smothers said.
The fact W.S. Neal has given up 369 yards passing and six touchdowns the last two games is the big reason why Dale County may drift away from its usual strength.
"If I'm on an opposing team, I'd certainly throw the ball against us until we prove we can stop it," Smothers said.
Despite the goose egg in W.S. Neal's win coulmn, Smothers still saw plenty of positives in Friday's loss.
"We scored a couple of touchdowns in the second half and before Friday we hadn't scored an offensive point the entire season. We had a great 80-yard drive that was actually 95 yards after a 15-yard loss on the first play of that series. That drive came against Trinity's number one unit. We had 25 penalties in our previous two games and just three Friday. Jake Bailey ran for 104 yards in the second half and 108 for the game. Getting him back is such a big boost to our offensive unit," Smothers said.
The Blue Eagles are still waiting word on the availability of senior tight end/linebacker Cory Freeman. Freeman was sidelined against Trinity with a hamstring injury.
"Cory was still out of practice Monday and we expected him to be out again Tuesday," Smothers said. "On the other hand, Ron Dexter stepped in and did a good job in place of Cory at tight end Friday. We've moved Dewayne Floyd into a flex tight end spot. We used Cory's brother, Bobby Freeman, in at linebacker the other day. People like them need to step things up while Cory is out."