By Tony Tsoukalas / Sports Writer
The Meridian Star
You won't see any signs or banners hanging on the Lamar campus hyping up Friday's meeting against Simpson County Academy. However, that does not mean the game does not carry high ramifications. The match up between the Raiders and Cougars will determine first place in the MAIS District-4AA standings and will give the winner home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Looking ahead into the playoffs, a win would provide even more than a chance to play at home. It would also most likely avoid a first-round pairing with undefeated Centerville Academy, as second place in District-4AA will travel to the winner of District-6AA. With so much on the line, it would appear the game against the Cougars would be a must-win for Lamar.
Just don't tell head coach Mac Barnes, the Lamar coach is adamant on treating this game just like any other.
“You are going to have to beat Centerville and Brookhaven sooner or later,” Barnes said. “We don't know how good Simpson is, and they don't know how good we are. We probably played them better than anybody did last year, so we respect them, but our kids certainly aren't in awe of them. I don't think you would find a player on our team that doesn't think we are going to go down there and win. We are just going to focus on this game.”
The Raiders will need that confidence as they travel to Simpson County to take on a well-coached Cougar team, playing with a swagger of its own.
“They have this mentality that they are better than the team they are playing,” Barnes said. “You really have to defeat that every time you line up against them. You aren't going to catch them off guard.”
The Raiders will look to hit Simpson County in the mouth early in order to avoid giving the Cougars any momentum to build on. Last season, the Raiders got out to a 14-0 lead at the half, only to see it erased in the third and fourth quarters, as Lamar fell 28-14. Barnes said his team will need a complete game this time out if they want to come away with a win.
“You have to play hard, and play hard and keep on going,” Barnes said. “At some point they realize you are not going to quit, and it will start to neutralize itself. But, if you let them get the lead early, they are going to take it from you.”
This Simpson County team is different from teams in the past in that the Cougars have opened up their offense more from their typical ground-and-pound approach. Though the new formations require more preparations, it is still a slight relief for teams this season, as the Cougars once offered one of the most deadly running games in the league.
“You know they are still going to be good at running it,” Barnes said. “When they added the pass this year, you have to get ready for it. But, I think we would rather go up against them this year than when they used to line up and run the ball 35-40 times a night .”
With a playoff birth already locked up no matter what the outcome, Barnes said he hopes his players can just execute to their abilities and treat the match up just like any other.
“I can tell you what, we haven't done anything different this week,” Barnes said. “We are just going to play as hard as we can and focus on what we can do. We are just going to go out and play our game.”