Byrd players hear the buzz around campus and Shreveport about how Calvary is a better team than the one the Yellow Jackets beat 48-21 in 2013.
But senior defensive end Mike Taylor doesn’t need to be told as the Yellow Jackets (2-0), the No. 2 team in The Times Dirty Dozen prep football poll, will host No. 1 Calvary (2-0) on Thursday at Lee Hedges at 7 p.m.
The second-year starter sees Calvary’s improvement plainly on film.
“They’re executing better. (Quarterback Shea Patterson) seems like he’s more adjusted to the offense,” Taylor said. “Everybody is in sync, and nobody is lost. It’s his show now.
“We’re a younger defense this season but we’re more athletic and have more depth. We feel like we’re executing very well, too.”
Byrd held El Dorado (Ark.), the reigning Class 6A champions in Arkansas, to seven points this past week.
The Calvary offense is productive with more than 40 points in each of their two wins – one against Class 5A Parkway – but Patterson knows the Cavs need a quicker start to not fall behind Thursday.
“We’ve improved in the second half getting signals and having better communication in the huddle,” said Patterson, who has thrown eight touchdowns in his first two games. “Byrd is going to be the best team we play all year.
“They are fast on defense, and we’ll have to play almost perfect to beat them.”
After winning the Division III state title this past season, perfection is the new goal for the Cavs this season. They’ve turned an 0-2 start in 2013 into two wins this season, and Calvary coach John Bachman said he’s using it as motivation for his team.
“We talked about losing four games last year (1-4 start) … and being undefeated is something we haven’t done,” Bachman said. “It’s difficult to do, and it doesn’t matter how many ‘A’s’ you have behind your name (2A, 5A, etc.).
“But this Byrd defense is extremely well coached, and they play hard and fast. We’ve got to get a hat on a hat up front, and we think we have a running back (Orlando Bradford) and a quarterback (Patterson) that can make a difference along with skill guys like (Shun Brown) that can get into space.”
The Calvary defense has forced 13 turnovers in its first two games, including eight interceptions.
But Byrd (Class 5A runner-up in a 1-point loss to Rummel) is primarily a ground-and-pound team with variations of the Wing-T offense, which features quarterback Tyler Howard, full back Tray Allen and running back Dominic Haggerty. Both Howard and Haggerty rushed for more than 100 yards against El Dorado.
“The offensive line has been the key despite us losing three starters from last year,” said Byrd coach Mike Suggs. “Especially against a quality opponent like Calvary … and a defensive coordinator like Ronnie Alexander who has disciplined defenses, you have to protect the ball.
“We want to play good defense and try to control the ball.”
Senior Jacob Barkley is an important cog up front, and he said blocking Calvary’s fast linebackers and defensive backs will be key.
“(Howard) is making good decisions and reads, and our running backs are very quick and are able to find the holes,” Barkley said. “Calvary is obviously very good, and we’ve got to get their front four blocked so we can get to their linebackers and secondary.”
Calvary senior Kurrell Vaughn (6-foot-2, 265) is part of a defensive tackle tandem with Andre Ealy (6-foot-3, 330 pounds) that will attempt to plug Byrd’s running game.
“We’re focusing on stopping their inside running game, as well as outside,” said Vaughn, who has scholarship offers from Northwestern State and Southeastern. “We’ve got to hit somebody in the mouth and play hard, and we’ll have a chance to win.”