Essex vs. Loachapoka in rematch

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 4, 2005

Last season, John Essex capitalized on the school’s first ever playoff berth by defeating Ariton 28-8 in the first round. But at home the following week, the Loachapoka Indians shut down and shut out the Hornets on their way to a 14-0 win.

Now a season later, the Hornets have returned to the playoffs and thanks to a scheduling quirk, they’re going to get their shot at payback. Essex travels to Lee County Friday to take on Loachapoka with the knowledge of how they might best turn the tables on the Indians, but also the knowledge of exactly how tough an opponent they’re going to face.

“It’s an advantage being able to play somebody familiar, but they’re a pretty good team,” says Essex head coach Alphus Shipman. “I hate to draw them in the first round.”

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After having seen the Indians on film, Shipman says not much will have changed on the other sideline since last year’s meeting.

“They’re still pretty much the same team, the same group of guys,” he says. “They’re great on defense. They’re aggressive, they are fast, and they are strong.”

Shipman says that the Hornets will attack the Indian defense the same way they’ve attacked the other defenses on their schedule: a heavy dose of running backs Chris Jones, Darnell Edwards, and Brian and Daryl Matthews, mixed with quick strikes from the aerial partnership of QB/WRs Keniote Phillips and Surran Allen.

“We’re just going to come out and do what we do,” Shipman says.

For all the Hornets’ depth at the skill positions, Essex’s success will start up front, and thanks to the Indians’ power running game perhaps even moreso on defense than on offense.

“They run the I and they run straight at you,” Shipman says. “They want to see if you can handle being run straight at.”

That puts the burden of stopping the Indians most squarely on the shoulders of the Hornet defensive line. The good news is that the line–Robert Parker, Demetrius Branch, Robert Edwards, Hawk Taylor, and Sental Johnson–has improved steadily throughout the season and has kept right on improving this week.

“The pressure’s on them,” Shipman acknowledges. “But they’ve had a great week of practice. They have to have a good game.”

The Essex line played perhaps its best game of the week last Friday against Greensboro. The Hornets took over on their own 20 ahead by a point with almost 10 minutes remaining, and without completing a pass came within one first down of running out the clock. The Raiders came back to win the game, but Shipman said his team’s performance is still a reason for confidence heading into the postseason.

“That’s one of those games where we lost, but it was still a kind of moral win,” Shipman says. “That’s a 4A team, going to the playoffs, and I felt like we handled them pretty well up front. So now we’ve got to come together and see if we can handle them Friday night.”