By JUSTIN RAINS
In terms of playoff implications, Friday’s matchup of Palestine and Fairfield means absolutely nothing.
To players and coaches inside the Palestine locker room, however, it means a whole lot.
When the Wildcats (7-2, 3-0) and Eagles (6-3, 3-0) face-off at Eagle Stadium (631 Post Oak Road, Fairfield, Texas 75840) and renew what’s become one of the area’s best rivalries, the District 19-3A title is on the line.
It’s a title that Fairfield has held the past two seasons, and one that Palestine wants for itself.
“It’s the logical next step if you’re trying to build a program and rebuild some tradition,” PHS coach Lance Angel said. “That’s the next step that we’ve been talking about since last year and it’s been one of our goals that we’ve had for the last eight months.”
That goal and the rivalry aspect of the game has also seemed to keep the Wildcats’ minds off of the looming playoff date with Carthage, a matchup that was set when Palestine beat Mexia Friday.
“Our kids are completely committed to playing the best that we can against Fairfield,” Angel said. “There really hasn’t been a lot of discussion about next week.”
Fairfield comes into the game off of a bye week, and is 6-3 under first-year coach John Bachtel.
But, a new coach doesn’t mean a new identity for the Eagles, who are still a smash-mouth football team behind star runners Andre Welch (190 carries, 970 yards, 11 TDs) and Larry Rose (87 carries, 663 yards, 5 TDs).
On the year, the Eagles average 230 rushing yards per game, and throw for less than 100.
“Fairfield runs the ball so much and have such a tradition of running the ball, that they’re going to have their runs from time to time,” Angel said. “What we’ve got to do as a defense is keep them from having the ball on 10-, 12-, 14-play drives. We can’t allow that to happen.”
Something will have to give on Friday, however, because Palestine is allowing less than 100 yards per game on the ground in 2012.
The game could come down to a pure rushing contest.
Palestine also wants to run the ball, and has done so successfully behind a stable of solid backs all season long.
The Wildcats average 260 yards per game on the ground, while also throwing from just under 100.
“I think it’s pretty obvious to everybody now that our identity is as a run team,” Angel said. “We’ve just got so many different kids we can hand the ball to and our offensive line has, each week, gotten better.”
Sports editor Justin Rains can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org