No. 2 IMG Academy and Oxbridge Academy may be a match of necessity

No. 2 IMG Academy and Oxbridge Academy may be a match of necessity

Super 25

No. 2 IMG Academy and Oxbridge Academy may be a match of necessity

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Aug 27, 2016; Loganville, GA, USA; IMG Academy head coach Kevin Wright (right) shakes hands with Grayson Rams head coach Jeff Herrin after the game in a high school football duel of top ranked teams at Grayson Community Stadium. IMG Academy defeated the Grayson Rams 26-7. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports ORIG FILE ID: 20160827_sal_sz2_200.JPG

IMG Academy head coach Kevin Wright (right) shakes hands with Grayson Rams head coach Jeff Herrin after IMG’s 26-7 win earlier this season. The Ascenders play at Oxbridge Academy (West Palm Beach, Fla.) on Thursday. (Photo: Dale Zanine, USA Today Sports).

No. 2 IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) and Oxbridge Academy (West Palm Beach) have only been playing football since 2013 and they’re already having problems finding teams willing to play them.

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So, it makes sense that the two private school powers will play Thursday in West Palm Beach.

“Oxbridge has gotten really good really fast,” IMG coach Kevin Wright said. “There are similarities, really. It’s an academy, it’s just not a boarding school and I don’t think they have an easy time finding games, like us.”

IMG Academy is 5-0 against a national schedule that includes three opponents that were in the Super 25: Grayson (Loganville, Ga.), current No. 13 Centennial (Corona, Calif.) and current No. 21 St. John’s College (Washington, D.C.). Oxbridge Academy, a Class 3A school, is 6-0 and while it doesn’t have any Super 25 wins, all its non-region victories have been against larger schools. The ThunderWolves opened the season with an 8-7 defeat of defending 8A champion Flanagan (Pembroke Pines) and a 14-7 defeat of Carol City (Miami). IMG has a similar result against Carol City, a 17-7 victory.

The biggest question is whether Oxbridge Academy, which has allowed only 4.3 points a game, can stop the Ascenders, who have been averaging 39.6 points a game and have 18 seniors and juniors in Rivals.com’s list of top 150 players. That includes versatile senior quarterback Kellen Mond, who has thrown for 1,053 yards and 14 touchdowns but also run for 443 yards and six touchdowns.

“I think our defensive front is very stout,” ThunderWolves coach Brendan Kent said. “Our kids do a really good job of running to the ball. It all starts with our defensive line. It has been good on shutting down a run game. Against IMG, we have got to play assignment football. You can’t make a mistake. We have to play a very sound game against these guys.”

Wright said his team will need to find a good offensive balance against Oxbridge’s defense.

“They have given up, what, four offensive touchdowns?” Wright said. “Defensively, they’re big and fast and they fly around. They have the ability to put 300-pound defensive linemen up front. Nobody has been able to run the football on them — you can tell their No. 1 priority is to take away the run. We are going to get some opportunities to throw the ball down the field. We are going to have to win some one-on-one battles against man coverage to take advantage.”

One factor in the ThunderWolves’ favor is last week was a planned bye week, so they have been preparing for IMG for two weeks. Because of Hurricane Matthew, a lot of that preparation has been off the field, watching video. The Ascenders, on the other hand, had planned to play Southern Lab (Baton Rouge, La.) last Friday before that game was called off because of Hurricane Matthew.

“You want a bye week in the middle of the year,” Wright said. “But then, in our situation, you’re preparing to play a different opponent. Your routine is different. Now, you haven’t played for two weeks. Until the other day, it had been 19 days since all of our starters practiced at once. Now we have to get back to the routine of preparing for a big game.”

If the game is close, it could be a budding rivalry, which would be good for both teams’ schedules. While Oxbridge, unlike IMG, plays for a state championship, the only games the ThunderWolves can count on are in their region.

“Dwyer (Palm Beach Gardens) won’t play us, Glades Central (Belle Glade) won’t play us,” Kent said. “No local team has agreed to play us other than Royal Palm Beach and that’s because I used to coach there. A lot of good teams in our area are worried about losing to a school in a lower classification.”

Oxbridge has 15 different players who have scored touchdowns this season, led by sophomore quarterback Gio Richardson, who has thrown for 11 touchdowns and run for one, and sophomore running back James Meeks, who has run for four touchdowns and caught a touchdown pass.

The ThunderWolves also have had to pull together amid adversity. The school, founded by billionaire Bill Koch, fired its previous head master, athletic director and football coach in May. In August, the school agreed to forfeit games in all sports from the two prior seasons because of what it called “inconsistent application of administrative procedures with regard to student financial aid.”

The shakeups led some players to leave the school, but those who stayed have held together, Kent said.

“Kids are resilient,” he said. “As soon as this all happened, we preached about staying together and they play together. We have had good senior leadership.”

 

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