The 53 Frenzy is upon us. Calhoun versus Sonoraville. Need we say more?
On Friday, the Yellow Jackets (2-0) and the Phoenix (1-1) will meet at Sonoraville High School in the first Region 6-AAA matchup of the 2019 season. Head-to-head, Calhoun has won every contest between the two schools, with a record of 13-0.
For Calhoun head coach Clay Stephenson, this is his first rivalry game as head coach, but that’s not to say he’s unfamiliar with the series.
“It’s always been electric ever since the first game,” Stephenson said. “We don’t expect anything different. Going over there ... it’s a road game, but it’s kind of a ‘home’ road game so we’re looking forward to it.”
Last week, Calhoun shut out Therrell 30-0. Stephenson said the effort is present, but the team is not executing their X’s and O’s on each play.
“That’s something the coaches are harping on this week,” Stephenson said. “What we’ve got to get better at is executing your job on every play. I’ll stress to the team ... that you can’t wait until Week 10 to jump up and get better. You’ve got to get better each practice and every day.”
Stephenson said the message to his team was focusing in on getting better all around.
“We are 2-0, but we’ve got to keep getting better and keep executing and keep practicing every day,” Stephenson said. “We’re not near where we need to be yet, and I think they understand that. Have to make sure we’re staying focused, given all the hoopla that goes on with a rivalry game like this, sometimes you can lose your focus during the week so that’s something we’ll harp on.”
Stephenson said Sonoraville is a well-coached team and fight hard every game.
“We saw they played Darlington this week and they played hard from the first quarter all the way to the fourth, so I don’t expect anything different Friday night,” Stephenson said. “We know they’ll be ready to play and jacked up and I feel like their intensity and how hard they play is the biggest thing that I’ve noticed.”
Last year, the Yellow Jackets posted a shutout of Sonoraville, 38-0, at Calhoun High School. The Jackets scored 21 points in the first quarter alone, with two scores coming on the heels of interceptions.
Last week, Sonoraville got off to a poor start against the Darlington Tigers, trailing 23-0 after 12 minutes. A safety and a fumble contributed to nine points quickly going up on the board for the Tigers, and Sonoraville played from behind for the rest of the evening.
“You can’t play from behind against a good team like that,” Pate said. “The kids battled, fought their tails off I thought, but you just can’t come out the gates like we did. You’ve just got to be smarter against a quality team.”
This season, the Phoenix will host the Jackets, and Pate is looking forward to playing the rivalry game on home turf.
“It’s a game we’re looking forward to,” Pate said. “You always want to be 1-0 in the region after that first game. In the past, we haven’t had a whole lot of luck against Calhoun but that’s where we want to leave that, in the past.”
This year, Pate said he is expecting the Phoenix’s execution to be improved.
“The execution has been lacking in the past, just putting ourselves behind the eight ball,” Pate said. “We’re a year older, we’re a year more experienced, so that’s some of the things we’re looking to change and we’re looking to change the outcome as well.”
Pate said the first thing that jumped out at him about the Yellow Jackets was their discipline.
“They play very sound defensively,” Pate said. “They’re not going to beat themselves.”
Pate said his team’s biggest challenge this Friday against Calhoun is starting the game off on the right foot.
“Against a quality team like this, you’ve got to come out of the gates fast and ready to play,” Pate said. “We’ve got to match their physicality. I believe (we need to) let our kids know they can play with this team, but that will require us starting off better and where our kids can get in the flow better.”
Pate said the Phoenix must be solid in all phases of the game offensively, defensively and special teams.
“We got to make sure we do a good job of executing and hanging on to the football,” Pate said. “We can’t give Calhoun easy points.”
Names to know
For the Yellow Jackets, they roll with senior Jake Morrow at signal caller. So far this season, Morrow has two touchdown passes and zero interceptions.
Calhoun uses quite a few backs, but one name to keep your eye on is junior Jerrian Hames. Hames wears No. 33, and has put up four touchdowns through the first two games of 2019.
“Offensively, I think 33 (Hames) is a shifty-type guy,” Pate said. “Their front is ... getting better each week and so is their quarterback.”
For the Phoenix, expect them to start junior Brady Lackey at quarterback, but don’t be surprised to see senior Blade Bryant get touches, as he can not only play under center, but also out wide.
Running back wise, Sonoraville seniors Colton Richards and Tyler Capps, along with junior Colton Whitehead, should handle the ball at different points on Friday.
Lackey is a dual-threat guy, who can both sling the pigskin downfield or tuck and run for yardage.
Friday’s forecast is calling for partly cloudy skies with highs in the mid-90s, but don’t expect that to limit the turnout.
“The kids are definitely excited and the coaches are excited,” Stephenson said. “Anytime you get to play against guys you go to church with and know ... anytime you get to do that, it adds a little bit of extra excitement to the game and this week’s no different.”
Pate echoed similar sentiments about Friday night’s atmosphere at Sonoraville High School.
“Last year, it was like a monsoon, but still people come out for this game,” Pate said. “Just the atmosphere that this game brings is second to none. Our kids have played with these guys through rec league, ... travel teams and so forth, so getting to line up against a kid you competed with or played with in the past generates some competitiveness out of our guys as well. (I’m) looking forward to the excitement Friday night brings.”
Friday’s kickoff at Sonoraville High School is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Follow @Michael_Baron96 on Twitter for live updates from Friday night’s game.