The Meridian Star
After a switch to the Alabama Independent School Association eliminated the chance of a playoff appearance this year, Russell Christian Academy head coach Nate Ballard said the Warriors have dedicated the 2013 season to earning the community’s respect.
Friday night, the Warriors will get that opportunity as they travel up the road to take on Mississippi Association of Independent Schools powerhouse Lamar School at 7 p.m.
“We are trying to eventually build a rivalry with them,” Ballard said. “So, for us, it’s going to be ‘the game.’ I mean, it’s Lamar. It’s an opportunity to play a team that’s well known around the state and see where we stack up against them.”
While Ballard said his team has a ways to go to get to Lamar’s level, the Raiders definitely serve as a model of what he wants his program to become.
Russell Christian (4-3) has challenged itself this season as every team on the Warriors’ schedule has qualified for postseason play. Lamar (7-2, 3-1) will be no different as the Raiders bring the fastest team RCA has faced all year.
“That has been the hardest thing for us to simulate in practice,” Ballard said. “We can’t simulate their speed or their strength. You have to just show the kids what they are going to do and tell them what to prepare for.”
Originally the two teams were going to play in the first game of the season. However, scheduling issues pushed the game to Week 10. Lamar head coach Mac Barnes said he will use this game as an opportunity to prepare his team for the remainder of the season and into the playoffs. The Raiders also come into the matchup banged up and will be without Shane Blanton (concussion), Chance Purvis (leg) and Dalton McHenry (hip) for the game.
“The state championship game is in four weeks, and we’d love to have some of those guys there healthy,” Barnes said. “We’ve had a very light week of practice this week, and we are just trying to recover health wise.”
The Warriors have struggled controlling teams with good power-running offenses this season. While Barnes said the Raiders will still look to utilize their speed Friday night, he also noted Lamar will look to run right at Russell Christian to overpower the Warriors.
Russell Christian’s switch to the AISA might cause scheduling issues down the road, but both coaches remained optimistic about continuing the matchup in the future.
“Obviously, it has drawn a lot of interest,” Barnes said. “Hopefully we can continue it. I know with playing Northeast Lauderdale, it is great financially only having to travel four miles. It also certainly helps bring a big crowd."