Anyone who attended Airline’s thrilling win at Haughton last year knows what to expect from tonight’s rematch.
Get ready for some drama.
Last year’s game featured a 100-yard interception return, a recovered onside kick and a huge fourth-down stop.
“It was really a heck of a game,” Airline coach Bo Meeks said. “It was a really big win for us.”
Airline’s Kevin James provided the long pick-six to give the Vikings an early lead. Late in the fourth, Haughton cut Airline’s lead to 21-19 and recovered an onside kick at midfield. But Airline’s defense forced an incomplete pass on fourth down to seal a two-point Vikings win.
“They made a run at us late in the game, but we were able to hold them off,” Meeks said. “We expect a tough one this year as well.”
A lot is on the line in this year’s game as well. Haughton (5-1, 0-1) is coming off a tough 27-21 loss at home to Byrd (4-1, 1-0). The Buccaneers led by 14 at halftime but didn’t score in the second half.
Instead of hanging their heads, Haughton coach Rodney Guin said his players responded to the loss with determination.
“Airline is a big game for us, whether we won or lost against Byrd,” Haughton coach Rodney Guin said. “This is a big deal. Our kids look forward to playing Airline, and hopefully they will be ready to play. It’s important for us to play well.”
Airline entered the season as one of the favorites to win District 1-5A. Byrd, the defending champion, and Parkway also have title hopes. A win against Airline would put Haughton right back in the picture as well.
But Haughton has a tough task ahead, trying to slow Airline’s powerful offense. Unlike Byrd, which forced the Buccaneers to prepare for a triple-option running game in practices last week, Airline’s offense runs the spread, a look familiar in Haughton.
“The majority of the teams on our schedule run a spread offense,” Guin said. “In terms of preparation, last week was really difficult. But the spread, that’s what we run. Our kids see that every day. (Quarterback Hayden) Hildebrand is what makes it so hard to prepare for Airline.”
This year’s Airline-Haughton matchup could easily turn into a shootout. Both teams feature talented quarterbacks – James Almond at Haughton and Hildebrand at Airline – who have a bevy of skilled receivers. Both offenses can also punish defenses with their rushing games.
“A high scoring game is always a possibility,” Meeks said. “On defense, we want to keep that from happening, but they do have the weapons. If both of the offenses are clicking, we both have the ability to put up points, so it could turn into that type of game.”
Airline has scored more than 30 points in five of its six games. Haughton has topped 40 points four times.
“Haughton is always very athletic,” Meeks said. “We will have to minimize their big plays. And when we get opportunities on offense, we have to make some big plays.”
Meeks plans to adapt to Haughton’s defensive scheme.
“For us, we’ve got to continue to establish the run and be patient,” he said. “We have to take what they give us. We can’t get greedy. If we do that, we should be able to get some points here and there.”
Connect with Brent Shirley on Twitter at @bshirley08.