Don’t tell Byrd or Parkway Thursday’s game lost some of its luster after both teams lost badly in their district openers a week ago.
It’s the first time since 1982 the two rivals will meet after a loss — a stretch of 23 games that included 18 season openers and featured the District 1-5A champions in each of the last five years. But Byrd (0-4, 0-1 District 1-5A) coach Mike Suggs and Parkway (3-1, 0-1) coach David Feaster said none of that will matter for them and their players when they step on the field together at Lee Hedges Stadium.
“Feaster and them aren’t going to let up on us any,” Suggs said. “They’re not going to come into the game light and we’re going to come into the game laying as hard as we can and try to get better.”
The Yellow Jackets will be huge underdogs, and Feaster went so far as to say Byrd could salvage an 0-4 start either with a miraculous run in the Division I playoffs or by ending a four-game losing streak against the Panthers. He added this is a game his players always circle on the calendar, so they’ve already put last Friday’s 45-8 home loss to Evangel behind them.
It was the first time Parkway failed to score 10 points since Feaster arrived in 2011, even with what Suggs believes could be the best group of skill players in the state. Wide receiver Terrace Marshall never caught a pass and Justin Rogers faced intense pressure all night from an outstanding Eagles defensive front.
“For years, that’s the gameplan for the defense (against us) is we’ve got to get pressure on this quarterback,” Feaster said after praising Rogers’ decisionmaking. “Because if we can get in his head, make him think that we’re blitzing every play, make him think that we’re rushing him every play, then he’ll start making mistakes.”
He also expects Byrd and other District 1-5A teams to follow Evangel’s lead and put at two defenders on Marshall nearly every play, which could open up opportunities for his fellow receivers. Still, Suggs said the Eagles’ athleticism made the biggest difference, and he knows the injury-depleted Yellow Jackets secondary doesn’t have anyone like free safety Ardarius Washington and his teammates.
Byrd’s best chance at stopping Parkway’s explosive offense will likely be at the line of scrimmage, where the Panthers’ inexperience showed up in their first home loss since 2012. The Yellow Jackets defensive line often made it tough for Captain Shreve to run in a 34-7 loss last week, although Demarcus McCall went over 100 yards thanks to a late 50-yard touchdown run.
“That’s one of our bright spots that we have,” Suggs said. “That’s where we’ve got a little bit of experience in and so we’re hoping that we can get a little bit of pressure on them.”
Offensively, it’s no secret they’ll need to hold onto the ball a lot better after fumbling 11 times — losing six — against the Gators. Still, Suggs said the playbook and especially the passing game will remain limited with sophomore Carson Dunn at quarterback in place of Zavier Moore, who underwent surgery Wednesday to repair the ACL he tore in the fourth quarter of a loss against Calvary a week ago.
Although Parkway doesn’t face nearly the same injury issues as Byrd, Feaster said as many as five players, including senior offensive lineman Hunter Nichols and junior tight end Derrick Mitchell limped off the field and didn’t return against Evangel. All of them hope to play Friday, and Feaster said the rivalry with Byrd provides extra motivation.
If the Yellow Jackets can stay competitive with the No. 8 Panthers, Suggs said it could provide a huge confidence boost moving forward. Meanwhile, Parkway hopes to get back on track for another deep playoff run, much like last year when it followed a 56-21 loss at Evangel with a 20-6 win over unbeaten Byrd.
“We had a phenomenal effort last year, where we played like five or six weeks in a row, nobody scored on us, and ended up being co-district champs and ended up in the semifinals,” Feaster said. “But it all started after a terrible loss. We felt terrible coming away from Evangel.”