PELAHATCHIE – It’s been a long time since the East Rankin Academy Patriots started a season 4-1.
They are in uncharted territory as they try to make a push in the MAIS power points standings for a district title and playoff spot.
This week they host Tri-County Academy, the No. 1 team in AA. The Rebels are 5-0, and the defense has yet to give up a point.
“There’s obviously a lot of excitement around the school and community,” said ERA coach Matt Butts. “We know we’re not sneaking up on anybody anymore. The season has gone remarkably well. But we know we have to play better because the competition gets better each week the rest of the year.”
ERA moved from the spread to the triple option this season and had a hard time adjusting to it. The Patriots had 14 turnovers over the first four games with 12 resulting in lost fumbles, mostly during the quarterback-running back exchanges.
Quarterback Seth Dearman leads the Patriots with 391 rushing yards and six touchdowns while three others have at least 135 yards. Dearman has also passed for 378 yards and four scores.
The passing attack could be the difference-maker since Butts said TCA has some size up front on defense and has stopped the run for most of the season.
ERA lost to Simpson Academy, 25-20, in Week 2 after three turnovers led to scores that helped the Cougars build a 19-0 lead. Dearman passed for 143 yards and two touchdowns — most in the second half — against Simpson, and Butts is confident the quarterback can produce again if called upon.
The ERA defense has 16 takeaways, including 10 interceptions. Safety Case Taylor has five picks while defensive end Trace Sugg has seven sacks and 14 tackles for loss.
The Patriots won last year’s meeting 31-21, and Butts said the Rebels will be looking for payback as they try to stay undefeated.
“I know they are a couple classes below us, but they are a very good football team,” he said. “They’ve got some really talented players and a lot of speed at the skill positions.
“They’re a very tradition-rich team. We’re still trying to build one here. We have to win the turnover battle and play to the best of our ability to win the game. If we can execute our assignments we can move the ball. If we don’t, it could be a long night to be a Patriot.”
Itawamba AHS gets top play
Clint Hoots is a defensive-minded coach, but his offensive staff may take more suggestions from the team’s former defensive coordinator and now first-year head coach at Itawamba AHS.
Following an Aberdeen touchdown that put the Indians down 20-14 with 10 seconds left in the first half and at their own 31-yard line, some coaches wanted to kneel while Hoots wanted to take a chance.
The chance ended in a 69-yard touchdown as Caleb Whittle caught Vijay Miller’s 57-yard heave over two defenders and then pitched to tight end Russell Bunch who ran the final 12 yards for a 21-20 halftime lead.
The play earned the top spot on ESPN’s top plays on Tuesday and was voted as the top overall play in the Best of the Best.
“That was a turning point for us,” Hoots said. “That helped get some momentum swung our way. (Whittle) heard him coming and heard him hollering, ‘Pitch it.’ He didn’t see him and just pitched it out there and Russell caught it.”
Whittle followed that up with the game-winning TD catch in the right corner of the end zone with 25 seconds left as IAHS beat Aberdeen, 43-36.
Whittle has 100 yards receiving in each of the past three games as the Indians improved to 4-0.
Chris Whitaker can be reached at (601) 961-7344 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ChrisWhitaker79 on Twitter.