A couple of district runner-ups take center stage tonight when the Northview Chiefs travel to take on the Cottondale Hornets in the Region 1-1A final.
Northview (4-6) kept its state title hopes alive with a 22-19 win against the District 2-1A champion Vernon Yellow Jackets, while the Hornets (7-4) returned the favor by knocking off the District 1-1A champion Baker in the Region 1-1A semifinals.
“Coming off the game last week, our guys are definitely confident in the fact that we can go and do this,” Northview coach Sid Wheatley said. “But it’s not going to be easy. Just because you did it last week doesn’t mean it will happen again.
“Cottondale has a very good team. They have three or four backs that can all take it to the house in a heartbeat. It will present a challenge to us to try to defend it.”
The Hornets opened the season with a 399-yard rushing performance against Freeport and never looked back in finishing as the runnerup in District 2-1A. Cottondale’s riding a two-game win streak after losing to Jay 39-28 in Week 9.
The Hornets are led by a big offensive line, anchored by Derrick Wilson (6-6, 300). Norris Calhoun is a running quarterback with 1,500 yards rushing on the season.
“I think they had maybe 501 yards rushing against Graceville,” Wheatley said. “I think they had a back go over 200 and a couple go over 100 yards in that game.
“They kind of run a diamond backfield with the feature back behind the quarterback. They will do a lot of misdirection, counter, run to the edge. They will also run the iso (isolation drive). Calhoun is a pretty good player. They will definitely look to establish the run first and try to do some play-action pass off of that.”
The Chiefs have been able to do a little bit of both this season, but Wheatley said the running game really took over in the fourth quarter in the win over Vernon on Friday.
“We were in a spread set and my running back (LaDarius Thomas) came to me and said ‘Give me the ball,’ ” Wheatley said. “It was third-and-six and I gotta be honest, I came very close to calling a pass play, but I said ‘OK.’ And I gave it to him, and he broke a 24-yard run. The next play he went 30 yards for the touchdown.”
Wheatley said the emerging running game has been a product of a very inexperienced offensive line starting to jell together and find its stride.
“We lost our top seven or eight guys on the offensive line,” Wheatley said. “We literally had to start over at that position. That group has come along really strong. LaDarius has stepped it up as well. He’s becoming the guy that we all thought he could be.”