Old rivals prepare to square off in Game of the week

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 29, 2005

Two longtime rivals. Two good, good teams. Two playoff berths up for grabs in a region where only the strongest survive. Yeah, it’s safe to say this Friday’s contest between the Linden Patriots and the John Essex Hornets is a pretty big deal.

“It’s huge game. It’s Linden,” says Essex head coach Alphus Shipman. “They’re our rivals. And in our region, every game is important.”

It’s not surprising that Linden head coach Luther Davis would agree almost word-for-word.

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“John Essex is a big rivalry,” he says. “It’s also a regional game so this is a very big game for us.”

Ironically, by beating Essex Linden will have done something Essex has already done this season: rebound from a disastrous blowout loss. The Hornets were pasted by American Christian 48-2 but got back on their feet to defeat Carrollton and then post a massive win over A.L. Johnson. Linden lost 55-6 to Sweet Water two weeks ago, but came back with a 30-0 win over Francis Marion and will look for more when they host the Hornets.

“It was a big win for us,” Davis says of the Marion victory. “We came out flat the week before and didn’t do anything against Sweet Water. It’s good to bounce back, but we still made a few mistakes.”

Those mistakes won’t help against an Essex team that promises to provide a stiffer test. After struggling with injuries earlier in the season the Hornets can now field their full team, including starting quarterback Keniote Phillips and slashing running back Chris Jones, both of whom have missed time.

Davis says the Hornets’ passing game, in particular, will provide his team a stiff challenge.

“They throw the ball real well,” he says. “Our secondary’s going to be tested more than they have been.”

Despite Essex’s ability to move the ball in the air, both coaches agree that the game will be won and lost in the trenches.

“We have to control the football,” Davis says. “We need to control the line of scrimmage and play good defense.”

“We have to stop the run,” Shipman says. “Whoever stops the run will win the game. It’s no secret what they’re going to do. They come straight at you…Linden smashes you in the mouth. If you can maintain yourself, and not fold up, and hang in there for all four quarters, you’ll be all right.”

It won’t be an easy task against Patriot lines that feature the powerful likes of tight end/defensive end Marcus Catlin, noseguard/fullback Marvin Richardson, and tackle Johnthan Tate. Add in the speed and athleticism of players like linebacker Maurice Tate and quarterback Darnell Richardson, and the difficulties Essex faces become apparent. How to counteract them? Keep all that straight-ahead power off-balance, Shipman says, in part by platooning the gifted Suran Allen at quarterback.

“Some things Suran does a little bit better and some things Keniote does a little bit better,” Shipman says. “We just want to keep them from teeing off. They’re a little bigger than we are and they are physical. We’ll want to keep them guessing a little bit.”

After the Johnson win the Hornets would all but sew up a playoff berth with a win, but Shipman says that’s the furthest thing from his team’s mind.

“One game at a time. We have not mentioned the playoffs. We’re not thinking playoffs,” he says. “We’re just trying to win a game. That’s it.”

It sounds simple enough, but Shipman knows how difficult it’s going to be, especially with the game in Linden.

“It’s going to be hostile,” he says. “With us going down there, it’s going to take all of us playing together, with everything we’ve got, done perfect, to come away with a win.”