By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
After a week off, the Madison Southern Eagles (8-1) head into the Class 5A playoffs rested, healthier and focused as they take on Letcher County Central (4-6) tonight in Berea.
Southern coach Jon Clark said the week off came at a good time.
“We didn’t put the pads on last week at all. We took the whole week off and didn’t go in pads until Tuesday,” Clark said. “I think the break has given us some fresh legs and I think we will be really fast.”
The Eagles are coming off of back-to-back wins over North Laurel (56-28) and Lincoln County (49-14) to end the regular season.
After a disappointing three-point loss to Pulaski County, the Eagles have regrouped and played some of their best football of the season the past two weeks.
Junior running back Damien Harris was pretty much the Eagles’ offense against PC, carrying the ball a whopping 32 times.
Clark said following that game that for the Eagles to be successful and reach the goals they set for the season, the offense had to be more diverse, and declared that it would be going forth.
That has definitely been the case.
The past two games, Harris still has provided a lot of offense, but he has had plenty of help from his friends as well.
Against North Laurel, Harris had 14 carries for 263 yards and four touchdowns, but Casey Dionne, Aaron Sipple, Andrew Devere and Tyler Hagen all had carries in the game.
Harris ran the ball only eight times for 191 yards and three touchdowns against Lincoln County in the regular-season finale, while seven other Eagles also had carries in the game.
Clark said he doesn’t plan on changing that approach against the Cougars.
“We want to stick with what we’ve done the past two weeks,” Clark said. “It’s been successful, so we will distribute the football around to a lot of people.
Letcher County Central is a big strong power running team, much like Southwestern, Clark said.
“The are big but they are slow. They will line up with two backs and run it at you. Sometime they get in a one-back shotgun and run some shovel passes and some short passes to running backs too,” Clark said.
On defense, the Cougars will stuff the box to try to stop Harris and try to make Southern throw the ball.
The Eagles passing game has showed marked improvement during its two-game win streak. Against Lincoln, quarterback Aaron Slone was 11-of-14 for 159-yards and one touchdown.
Clark said he is very comfortable with throwing it now and Slone has some weapons to toss it to.
“They will play nine people in the box. We are going to run a lot of run-pass checks. We’ll line up to run and if they pile up the box with nine, then we’ll throw,” Clark said. “Aaron looks like a completely different guy from the first of the season and we feel very confident with him. We are throwing to a lot of different guys right now and he is doing a good job of reading the defense. Right now we have built-in answers on the field that we can run against anything we encounter.”
No coach ever likes to take a loss, but Clark said the bitter defeat to PC might have been a blessing.
“The kids feel good right now about their ability right now. I feel like that loss might have been the best thing for us for our guys to get truly focused,” Clark said.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. in Berea.