When: 7:30 tonight
Where: East Hall Stadium
Coaches: East Hall, Bryan Gray; Murray County, John Zeigler.
Key players: East Hall, OT/DE Sterling Bailey (6-6, 250, Jr.); LB/FB Corey Richardson (5-8, 210, Sr.); TE/WR Chaz Cheeks (6-5, 225, Jr.); QB Desmon Gardner (5-10, 165, Sr.). Murray County, DL Shawn Welch (6-3, 280, Jr.); FB Jake White; QB Austin Williams.
Outlook: Murray County has a bigger roster, and they have bigger boys, but East Hall has speed and athleticism on both sides of the ball and two defensive ends that are primed for a breakout season.
Sterling Bailey and Chaz Cheeks will be key for an East Hall defense that is playing against an offense that is still unsure of the exact scheme its running.
Offensively, East Hall’s line is going to have to hold. The Vikings have a skilled back in Corey Richardson and a quarterback who can tuck it and run in Desmon Gardner, but neither will be able to do much if the line is weak.
Prediction: EAST HALL. While the team might have to workout a few offensive kinks, Bailey, Cheeks and company will keep the Indians at bay and lead the Vikings to a win.
For East Hall, the sting of last year’s loss to Murray County still resonates.
And Vikings’ coach Bryan Gray is hoping it hurts just enough to produce a win for his team in their rematch with the Indians at 7:30 tonight at East Hall Stadium.
“We’re more focused this year than we were last year,” said Gray of his team’s 17-13 loss to Murray County in the opening game of the 2008 season. “We took it for granted and thought we were better than we were.
“The kids this year are living off that memory and are angry about it.”
Last year’s win by the Indians broke a 21-game losing streak, and served as their only victory of 2008.
“I know one thing,” Gray said, “our kids are going to come to play (today).”
Class 7-AAAA’s Murray County is returning nine starters from last year’s squad including junior fullback Jake White, senior quarterback Austin Williams and junior defensive lineman Shawn Welch.
The Indians run a multiple front defense. Offensively, first year coach John Zeigler has decided to mix things up.
“We’re not going to run as much option stuff (as we have in the past),” Zeigler said. “We turned the ball over a lot last year and we’re trying to eliminate that.
“We want to balance the running game with the passing game because what people were doing to us was putting eight or nine people in the box and we were trying to run the ball against them. So we’ve got to find some ways to get them out of that before we can run the ball successfully.”
Gray is counting on his team’s experience at defensive end with Sterling Bailey and Chaz Cheeks, at linebacker with Corey Richardson and Stephen Mendoza and in the secondary with John Hewell and Judd Robinson to play fast and combat anything the Indians might throw or run at them.
“(Murray County) is way to big for us to sit back and read,” Gray said. “We have to play fast and get to the football and if we do that, we’ll be in a good position to win."
Against the Indians multiple front defense, East Hall will debut its wing-T offense with senior starting quarterback Desmon Gardner at the helm.
“Offensively we’d like to get production out of our passing game,” Gray said. “And we’re really going to work to eliminate fumbles.”
Gray noted that East Hall is more athletic than Murray County, but the Indians have them beat on the depth chart.
“I’m hoping that our conditioning will hold over so that depth isn’t a problem for us against their bigger team,” Gray said.
All in all, however, Gray is hoping for a solid performance from his team.
“I want every kid to play to the best of his ability,” Gray said. “And I don’t want to turn the ball over.”
With the focused mode around East Hall’s team, Gray might get exactly what he wants.
“Our kids have been giddy,” he said. “They’re so excited to suit up and play. It’s great to see them ready for this game.”