Coverage Breakdown: Vardaman @ South Pontotoc
Players to Watch:
Trae Owen: The Rams’ senior signal caller helped lead Vardaman to new heights last season, throwing for 1,375 yards and 19 touchdowns en route to Vardaman’s first playoff appearance since 2012. Owen was a candidate for the SES Mississippi 1A Player of the Year a season ago, and his maturation as a quarterback has been a storyline that has captured the focus of Ram fans for the last four years. Owen has developed into a talented passer and can use his legs when necessary. As Trae Owen goes, so will his team tonight and the rest of the season.
Patrick Pratt: Like Owen, Patrick Pratt also showed promise early in his time as a Vardaman Ram. Pratt is a junior this season and has accumulated 14 interceptions in his career as a defensive back. Pratt is also the starting tailback for the Rams and rushed for ten scores a season ago. Pratt’s speed, agility and awareness are enough to keep coaches awake at night, and he uses these traits to his advantage on both sides of the ball.
Kody Townsend: A young rising star by the name of Kody Townsend blossomed last season in Vardaman. Townsend saw looks at backup tailback and gained starts at free safety before the season was over. The athleticism of Townsend has earned him the right of taking over the position formerly held by utility-man Brandon Washington on the Rams’ offense. Townsend, like Washington before him, will line up at wingback, wide receiver and the occasional tailback on offense and will police the skies for the Rams at free safety on defense.
Michael Williams: If there is one word that can describe Michael Williams, it is “physical.” Williams has been a strong presence at linebacker for the Rams’ defense the last two seasons and is aiming to continue that trend in 2017. This season, he is also taking over at fullback for the now-graduated Deon Johnson and looks to make his mark on Vardaman’s ground game.
Wendarius Townsend: Brother of the aforementioned Kody, Wendarius also gained his family’s athletic gene. This older Townsend sees time at linebacker for Vardaman and has the perfect combination of speed and strength to make him a hard-hitter. Townsend also made a highlight reel play last season for the Rams in a 90+ yard interception return for a touchdown. His soft hands and hard hitting could prove valuable tonight.
SOUTH PONTOTOC COUGARS:
Cole Brown: The Cougar quarterback made impressive strides last season, passing for 1,177 yards and 13 touchdowns. Brown has a plethora of weapons to work with again this season, and he has the talent to repeat (or surpass) his performance from a season ago. Look for the senior signal caller and his supporting cast to make noise tonight and in the games to come.
Eddie Ivy: Eddie Ivy is the man for the South Pontotoc offense. Ivy led the team in rushing yards with 1,307 and all-purpose yards with 1,845 last season. The most exciting part about Ivy for Cougar fans may not be his stats, however, but the fact that he is only a junior. Keep an eye on Eddie Ivy tonight and these next two seasons. I think it will be special.
Brett Riley: The Cougars’ 6’6 tight end was Cole Brown’s favorite target in the passing game a season ago, racking up 462 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns. The height advantage that Riley has on defenders is one thing, but his good hands make him even more dangerous. Brown and Riley should connect multiple times tonight, possibly for some scores.
Troy Bone: Bad news: South Pontotoc graduated their lead tackler Nathan Hester last year. Good news: it may not matter. Troy Bone has the statistics to back up his talent. Bone recorded 116 total tackles a season ago, second on the team only to Hester. His athleticism and ability to wreak havoc in the backfield make him a special player. Bone is now the anchor of this Cougar front-seven, and he is just the man for the job.
Treylyn Berry: A name that may not get mentioned a ton but deserves to is Treylyn Berry. Berry last season rushed for 256 yards, which may not sound like much, but considering he ran behind names like Eddie Ivy and Tyrese Fitzpatrick makes it impressive. Berry could be the next man up to help in South Pontotoc’s running game with the graduation of Fitzpatrick. He is only a junior, so we could see he and his classmate Ivy share time some tonight and this season.
Keys to the Game:
Tonight’s game marks the first time these two schools have played since 2014. At that time, Vardaman was in the midst of a 25-game losing streak. As we know, however, this is not the same Rams team from three years ago. The fact of the matter is that these two teams don’t know a lot about each other. They know that their opponent has talented athletes, and they’ve watched film, but most of the players on these teams have never played the opponent they’re facing tonight. That level of uncertainty will have to be overcome by both sides tonight, and should probably happen sometime in the first half.
Possibly helping with the uncertainty, Vardaman and South Pontotoc seem to be pretty even on paper. Both finished 7-5 a season ago, and both have some players with very similar skillsets. In my mind, if some of the athletes tonight do not know what to expect as far as their opponent goes, they may have to do nothing more than look in the mirror to prepare.
Once the players settle into a rhythm and shake off the butterflies that come with opening weekend, we could see these two squads in a pretty close contest due to their similarities. One or two big plays from scrimmage could be the difference in the final score.
The biggest key to the game, however, is defense. Both offenses use their skill players in a variety of ways, creating a lot of “moving parts” that could confuse a defensive unit. Whichever defense is able to step up and overcome this level of uncertainty will be the victor tonight.
Eddie Ivy and Kody Townsend
Looking at film this week, I was blown away by how similarly these two play the game of football. They both bring a fire and speed to the game that is contagious but aren’t afraid to dish out a hard hit when needed. Ivy measures in at 5’6, and Townsend is at 5’5. Although they are not large in stature, their performance and playmaking will be huge in determining who wins tonight.