Postseason survival will trump rivalry supremacy when Jeffersonville visits New Albany for the second time this season.
The Red Devils (5-4) will return to Buerk Field on Friday night, seeking an encore victory over the Bulldogs (4-5). The Devils won the regular-season game 25-12 on Oct. 2, although that could be discounted as irrelevant because of the brutal weather conditions.
On that rainy night, the lights went out on both offenses. Neither team could pass, and handling the football was a slippery proposition, but the Devils scored twice on special teams and cemented the win with an 81-yard touchdown run by Jordan Barnett in the fourth quarter.
The rematch will be played with different ground rules. Drier conditions on the turf will allow both teams to turn their offensive weapons loose, as they did when the two teams combined for 95 points last week.
“I’m sure they’re planning on lighting it up, and we are too,” Jeffersonville interim coach Alfonzo Browning said. “But the bottom line is defense really wins games. The team that buckles down on defense will be the one that wins this game.”
Jeffersonville certainly has firepower. Junior quarterback Cam Northern has thrown for 1,615 yards and 13 touchdowns. Brandon Coleman (45 catches, 720 yards, 6 TDs) and Isaiah Blanton (23 for 529 yards, 7 TDs) give Northern speedy targets, and Barnett (1.013 rushing yards) adds balance with the running game.
The Devils only attempted four passes while the Bulldogs tried five in the first meeting. That will change.
“It’s going to be a different game,” New Albany coach Sean Coultis said. “They couldn’t throw it, and we couldn’t throw it either. The rain hurt us, not only throwing the ball but on special teams. You don’t want to make that an excuse, because it was the same for both teams. It clearly impacted the game.”
Both teams can make the case for peaking at the right time. Jeffersonville has won three of its last four, played Class 5-A No.2 Columbus East tough until the fourth quarter, and ripped Jennings County for 44 points last week.
New Albany is coming off a 51-point explosion against Floyd Central, with Rondale Moore scoring four touchdowns and throwing for another. The Bulldogs also unleashed freshman quarterback Dylan Clark, a surprise starter who averaged 32 yards per completion in his debut. Coultis would not divulge if Clark or junior Justin Ricketts (who started the first 8 games) would be in charge of the offense this time.
“We have two quarterbacks that are both very good and we have confidence in,” Coultis said. “They’ll both be ready to go.”
Special teams decided the outcome the first time. Michael Lively returned a fumbled snap on a punt 43 yards for a touchdown, and Blanton returned a kickoff 79 yards for another score. Those sudden scores were among the reasons Jeffersonville won despite having only 14:08 in time of possession.
“I want our kids to know exactly what they’re doing, and that will enable them to play fast,” Coultis said. “Play to make a play instead of going out and freezing or being confused, playing not to make a mistake.
“You want to put it all together. Our defense has had some great games this year, but we’re trying to put it all together – offense, defense and special teams. I don’t want us to beat ourselves. If they make a play when we know what we’re doing, you just tip your hat. But we cannot have blown assignments and things like that, don’t turn it over and have penalties. It’s being mentally aware.”
The winner will face either No.1 Center Grove (9-0) or Columbus North (6-3) in the sectional final.
Justin Sokeland can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org