Eagles' playoff hopes hinge on outcome at Jackson

Published 4:30 pm Wednesday, October 18, 2006

By BY BRUCE HIXON – sports editor
The formula is a simple one. Accomplishing it may be a bit more tricky for the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles.
Win this Friday at Jackson and W.S. Neal will make its first playoff reservation since 2003. Lose and the Blue Eagles playoff hopes will be on life support.
It is a familiar position for coach Blaine Hathcock's crew. Last year the Blue Eagles went into the next-to-last region week in need of just one win or a Slocomb loss to make the postseason field. Neither happened. W.S. Neal dropped back-to-back games to Straughn and T.R. Miller, while Slocomb beat Abbeville and Dale County to grab the last playoff position from Class 3A Region 1.
This year the last playoff position from Class 4A Region 1 will most likely come down to W.S. Neal and Jackson. The Blue Eagles (5-2 overall and 3-2 in region play) are currently tied for third with Escambia County, but are actually in fourth place because they lost the head-to-head tiebreaker to the Blue Devils. Jackson (3-4 overall and 2-3 in region play) sits one game back.
W.S. Neal could still sneak into the postseason field if it loses to Jackson, but it would first have to beat T.R. Miller, a team it has lost 11 straight and 22 of 23 against, while Jackson would have lose to winless Hillcrest.
For what it is worth, Jackson may be the best or at least one of the best 3-4 teams in the state. The Aggies took then 4A top-ranked Thomasville down to the wire before it succumbed 27-18. Jackson did the same thing last week against 4A's new number one, T.R. Miller. The Aggies led 34-31 past the halfway point of the fourth quarter before the Tigers rallied for a 38-34 win. Jackson has also lost to to 2A fourth-ranked Leroy and Escambia County.
W.S. Neal's chances would be greatly enhanced if it can do something T.R. Miller could not do Friday, which is slow down Jackson running back Andrew Ezell (5-8, 173 lb. jr.). Ezell ran for 200 yards in the first half and 257 for the game with three touchdowns on 26 carries.
The Blue Eagles have allowed big individual rushing games in both of their losses. Thomasville back Roya Campbell racked up 129 yards rushing in the Tigers' 28-14 win in week four. Escambia County quarterback Michael Thomas broke loose for 151 yards in the Blue Devils' 26-14 win in week two.
Due to Jackson's success on the ground, particularly Ezell's, the Aggies did not have to throw much against T.R. Miller. However, Hathcock knows Jackson has a dangerous passing game with quarterback Kent Meyer (6-1, 170 lb. jr.) and top target DeMarcus Besteda (6-4, 190 lb. sr.).
Even though the Blue Eagles have scored 40 or more points three straight weeks and four times this season, Hathcock would prefer for his team not to get into a shoot-out with the Aggies.
One specific area might be special teams. The Blue Eagles missed four conversions against Hillcrest, three of them by kicks.