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In a rematch, Southern must get past tough Wildcats

After a 54-14 first round playoff victory over the Springwood Wildcats, the (8-3) Southern Academy Cougars prepare this week for a rematch with another wildcats team when they take on the (10-1) Wilcox Academy Wildcats this Friday night in Camden in the second round of the AISA playoffs.

This week’s game marks the second meeting this season between the two teams but this time around there is a bit more on the line. The two teams will be battling for a trip to Troy next week and a shot at the AISA 2A state championship.

The Wildcats came out ahead in the first meeting winning 14-10 in a hard fought battle where little mistakes made the difference. But Southern Academy head coach Shaun Bonds knows that that was a long time ago and the Cougars are a different team now.

There is no doubt that the Cougars are a better team today than they were eight weeks ago as they have won five of their last six regular season games while collecting over 304-total points in their last five. But this week’s game against Wilcox could be a different story.

Leading their offensive attack is junior running back Erik Montz who gained 2,023-rushing yards in the regular season and added 286 yards to his school record in the first round of the playoffs.

But Montz gives all the credit to his hefty teammates. "Our guys on the line have done a great job all season and all the credit should go to them," Montz said. The Cougars have one of the biggest and most aggressive offensive lines in 2A, which tips the scales at a combined weight of 1,192 lbs with junior tackle Wes Davis leading the way at 292lbs.

With the Cougars losing their first battle with the Wildcats the way they did, many Cougars are taking this one more personal. Senior nose guard Mathew Reynolds remembers what it was like to play in Troy and knows that the only thing standing in their way from a return trip is Wilcox. "To go to Troy and lose, hurt us. But to come back this year after losing 13 seniors makes me just want to win it all even more. And after losing to Wilcox in a game that we all felt we should have won makes this weeks game that much more important. We want it badly," Reynolds said.

And while the game with Wilcox has great meaning to many of the Cougar players, it is their coach that carries the desire of the this team on his shoulders. "That last game with Wilcox crushed me and I blamed myself for the loss. This time there is a lot more at stake. We are playing for the state championship. I know we can win, the team knows we can win. I like our chances and I believe in this football team," Bonds said.

While the Cougars look to be mentally up to the challenge this week many are wondering how they are holding up physically. But despite losing their starting quarterback Thomas Langham with a broken arm last week in practice; the Cougars come into Friday night’s game healthy, motivated and in full form.

Replacing Langham is sophomore quarterback Wallace Drury who completed 2-for-3 in the air for two touchdowns against Springwood. "I thought Wallace did a great job. He throws the ball well, he executes well, and he’s great with the option. He took our option to a different level Friday night and I think he will be a major factor in this weeks game," Bonds said.

The Cougars pride themselves on being a very physical football team and Bonds feels that his Cougars have a good chance of winning Friday night if they can win the battle in the trenches and physically beat up the Wildcats. "If it turns out that this came is a track meet then we’ll be in trouble but if it’s a slug fest, I’d say we have a pretty good shot," Bonds said.

But regardless of who wins come Friday night, the Cougars have come a long way this season and deserve this second chance. "Last season when we lost there were so many people who thought that there was no way we could go back to the playoffs, that this was just a rebuilding year and the last thing on their minds was Troy. But you can’t measure heart and you can’t measure desire. And this team has earned this opportunity. They have created it for themselves and wasn’t given anything,’ Bonds said.