Game of the Week: Shelby Academy at Southern Academy

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 22, 2005

Southern Academy, Shelby Academy. Two undefeated top-10 teams. Two regional foes. Two teams that met on the final week of the regular season last season and, oh yeah, met again for the AISA 1A state title. They meet again this Friday. Sound like much of a big game to you?

“I know they’ve had it circled on their calendar,” says Southern head coach Shaun Bonds. “It’s championship rematch. This is going to be a measuring stick for us. It’s a very important game for us.”

According to Bonds, however, not all of the reasons for the game’s importance are as simple as beating another good team and adding another notch in the win column.

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“It’s very important to win in regional play, since the winner of the region hosts the first two playoff games,” he says. “Playoff games are tough on the road, and because of the gate and concessions it’s good for the school from a financial standpoint.”

But that’s not all. Bonds isn’t willing to call Friday’s match-up a championship game preview, but he admits it’s a possibility.

“We do feel that we’re one of the teams that could win the state title,” he says. “But Shelby’s another one of those, and I’m sure Lowndes and Autauga feel the same way. That’s a long way off.”

At the same time, if the two rivals do clash again in the post-season, Bonds hopes that a third straight victory over the Raiders might give his team a psychological edge.

“You want to win from a mental standpoint. If you can get a mental edge in case you play them again, that’s what you want,” he says. “We beat them twice last year and if we beat them again, you want them to think ‘My gosh, what do we have to do to beat this team?’ So from the financial end, the mental end, and the regional end, this is very big game.”

To win the game, Bonds knows his team will have to be on the very top of their game. Shelby is an experienced team with senior standouts at both running back, with no. 6 Josh Kervin, and quarterback, with no. 4 Jake Ingram. To boot, Bonds says, the Raiders have even more size along their front lines than last year.

“We know a little bit about them. They’ve added some players. They’re bigger and stronger and they were big and strong already,” Bonds says. “They’re an excellent football team. Coach [DeWayne] Kervin does a great job.”

Bonds says although the overall scheme and aim of his team’s offense will be unchanged, the Cougar’s play-calling might be a little more creative than usual thanks to the increase in Raider size and the loss of his own All-State lineman in Wes Davis.

“We’re going to do the same thing. We’re just going to be trying to get people into positions where we can make plays,” he says. “[But ] we’ll probably take a few more chances. This time they’re a bit bigger than we are… we’re a different type of team this year.”

Leading the offensive charge for the Cougars will be do-everything tailback Wallace Drury. Drury entered the pre-season as Southern’s first-string quarterback, but Bonds and the Southern coaching staff decided to move junior back Nathan Bonds to QB and let Drury take handoffs instead. The move has worked wonders so far, with Drury rolling up huge chunks of yardage in blowout wins over MMI, Sumter, and Chambers.

“He’s done great. He’s been our playmaker, but that’s by design,” Bonds says.

For all Drury’s explosiveness on offense, the Cougars may have been even more impressive on defense. Led by senior defensive linemen Andy Wheeler, Allen Langham, and Max McCrory, the Southern defense has yet to allow a point in their three games so far. Going back to last year, the Cougars have pitched six straight shutouts.

“We’ve played pretty well on defense,” Bonds says, “but they’ll have to step it up a notch and be even better. This is the kind of game I could see being a defensive struggle. It’s probably going to boil down to two or three plays and whichever team makes those plays will win the game. Fortunately for us, last year we made the plays.”

One thing that’s certain about the Shelby game is that it will be closer, at least, than Southern’s three wins thus far. Bonds says that he does worry about his team’s ability to go toe-to-toe for 48 minutes, but hopes that any problems his team encounters might plague his opponent too: Shelby has won by scores of 21-0, 42-7, and 42-0.

“Conditioning could be a big factor. It’s going to be a four-quarter affair,” he says. “We haven’t had to bow up and play in the fourth-quarter, but they haven’t really had to either.”

The bottom line, Bonds says, is that for the first time this season the Cougars will be able to see exactly where they stand when it comes to the state’s best teams.

“Hopefully we’ve got a great team,” he says. “It should be a hard-fought game. Like I said, it’s going to be a measuring stick for us.”