By Jamie Wachter / Sports Editor
From the outside looking in, it’d be hard to tell Philadelphia is heading into its biggest game of the season thus far.
While the Tornadoes are heading to West Marion tonight with a trip to the MHSAA Class 3A South State championship game on the line, Philly coach Teddy Dyess explains his team has never been looser.
“We’ve been loose and I think that’s a very good thing,” he said. “It’s not unusual for this team that they don’t experience much pressure. They really enjoying playing the game and especially when you’re going into a big atmosphere like it will be (tonight). I think the place is going to be rocking and I think our kids are going to feed off of that.”
Although the Tornaodes are loose, they are also ready for a physical matchup with a Trojans team that is very similar. Like Philadelphia, West Marion is unbeaten with the Trojans 12-0 and Tornadoes 13-0. And both the Tornadoes and Trojans rely on physical rushing attacks to wear down opposing defenses.
“They are very similar in that I think they have 16 starters returning from that team last year,” Dyess added. “But, offensively they have changed in they were a little more multiple last year. This year, they line up in the Wing-T and just try to mash on people. It’s just straight-ahead power football.”
The Trojans, who have won their two playoff games by a combined 119-9 and have played just two games within two scores all season, have reached the third round behind the exploits of Vonnie Harrell, Tre Pace and Jamar Cole. Harrell leads the three senior stalwarts with 1,325 yards and 20 touchdowns rushing, while Pace has added 833 yards and 10 touchdowns and Cole has chipped in with 556 yards and 10 scores..
That reliance on the run is little bit different than last season when West Marion’s season ended in a second-round defeat to Philly. Then, the Trojans were a more balanced attack. This season, though, West Marion has attempted just 30 passes all season with Cole completing 18 of those for 561 yards.
The Tornadoes, on the other hand, also rely heavily on their rushing attack. Junior running back Jacardius Griffin has churned out 1,445 yards and 24 touchdowns and junior quarterback Romon Gray has added 1,112 yards and 12 scores. And in addition to that rushing success, Gray has thrown for 696 yards and 10 touchdowns on 38-of-73 passing.
“I think that’s good for us in that we see a lot of ourselves in the spring and during practice when we go 1s vs. 1s,” Dyess said. “I don’t think we’re going to get outphysicaled and I think our defense will be ready for it.”
With so much in common, Dyess said the key in advancing to South State will come in whichever team is able to come up with the big play. Last year that was the Tornadoes in their second-round matchup.
“It’s going to come down to one or two plays and we have to be prepared as possible to play,” he added. “One mistake in a 21-14 or 27-21 type ballgame gets you beat. So I think you have to be very prepared so that you don’t make that mistake that will get you beat.”
And while the Tornadoes are loose and confident, that has nothing to do with that win a season ago in Philadelphia.
“I think they have a big revenge factor on their minds but I think we understand this is a new year and it’s just one more obstacle on the way to a state championship,” Dyess said.