MURRAY — This is the only week that matters for the Calloway County Lakers as they prepare for their rematch against Hopkinsville Friday in the first round of the KHSAA playoffs.
The previous meeting, a 43-0 loss on September 27, has no bearing on the outcome of the upcoming game. If anything, it serves as a learning experience for head coach Chris Champion and his players.
There are a few things that Champion said he hopes his players do differently this time around and if they do they can have a big impact on team confidence.
“Our physicality and discipline. We had way too many mistakes offensively, and we played way too soft on defense,” Champion said. “We also have to finish drives. We put together a 19 play drive last game that resulted in zero points. That’s unacceptable.”
In that game, the defensive game plan was built around stopping Reece Jesse, the star wide receiver for the Tigers with two SEC offers, and they were successful. However, the reasoning behind the success had more to do with what the Tigers did offensively. With the Lakers playing a light box and focusing on Jesse, the Tigers elected to run the ball and they did it effectively. By the end of the game, the Tigers had 32 rushing attempts for 320 yards and just 11 passing attempts.
This time around there will be a new defensive scheme and a different emphasis and it will come down to execution and power of will for the Lakers to stop the Tigers offense.
Based on rankings and regular-season records, the Lakers are the big underdog Friday night and Champion said that if the season ends at the Stadium of Champions in Hopkinsville he hopes his underclassmen take some lessons from this season and keep them in mind for next year.
“The most important thing I hope our kids learned this regular season is what this coaching staff and I are willing to tolerate,” Champion said. “We are young and we have had a ton of adversity, but hard work and hard-hitting are two things that are non-negotiable for this coaching staff. I think the majority of our kids have bought into that, and they will see it pay off in the future.”
One interesting change this season to the playoffs is the way the first two rounds are set up. In years past, one district faced another district and the winners would play until one winner came from the two districts. This year each district will play opponents within their own district in the first two rounds and after that, the new RPI system will take over to determine home teams for the remaining games.
While the change cuts down on travel time a little, for the most part, the change hasn’t been welcomed with open arms.
Calloway’s district and Murray High’s district are two examples of the negative impact. Both have three teams in the top 10 in the state rankings and they will have to duke it out for the right to advance tot he RPI round.
“I am not a fan of the new playoff system,” Champion said. “I don’t think it is good for competition and it’s not fair for the top three teams in our district who are all ranked on the top 10. It amazes me how over 90% of the football coaches in this state opposed this system, yet KHSAA still implemented this new system anyways.”
What this means for the district is a meeting between Logan County and Madisonville North Hopkins on Friday night and a potential meeting with Hopkinsville the following week. Two top 10 matchups in the first two weeks mean two tops 10 teams will be eliminated in the first two rounds. That’s great news for the rest of the state but a tough situation for the coaches and players involved in the games this weekend and next.