By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
Without a doubt, one of the premier high school football matchups in the state tonight takes place in Berea when undefeated Madison Southern tangles with undefeated Pulaski County.
There will be a lot on the line when two of the most explosive offenses in the state fight it out for the top spot in the district.
The winner will have a stranglehold on the district race and put itself in position for a first-round home playoff game against a lower rated team, while the loser will have a much tougher road in the playoffs.
On paper, the game looks to be a slugfest between two teams that statistically at least are very similar.
Southern’s run-oriented offense, led by electrifying tailback Damien Harris, has rushed for 1,709 yards in six games this season.
The junior Michigan commitment has amassed 1,339 of those yards — averaging 223 yards per game — while scoring 22 touchdowns.
Led by quarterback Aaron Slone, the Eagles have thrown for 480 yards on the season. The Eagles have scored 245 points on the year.
In seven games, Pulaski County has scored 342 points on the year.
The Maroons offense revolves around sophomore quarterback Riley Hall who has thrown the ball 158 times, completing 104 of those, for 1,494 yards and 17 touchdowns, with only two interceptions.
Five Maroons receivers average more than 20 yards per game, led by George Gregory (24 catches for 472 yards and five touchdowns), Jake Johnson (32 catches for 401 yards and four touchdowns) and Aaron Smith (16 catches for 279 yards and three touchdowns).
The Maroons also have run the ball very well, rushing for 1,772 yards on the season.
On defense, the Eagles have only given up 86 points in six games. They have limited their opponents to 623 yards on the ground and 402 yards through the air.
The Maroons defense has allowed a total of 151 points on the year, while giving up 909 yards on the ground and 1,216 yards through the air.
Southern coach Jon Clark said his team is fired up and ready to go.
“We had the best Thursday practice we’ve ever had this week. We’re focused, we’re crisp, we’re getting better on both sides of the ball and on special teams,” Clark said. “If we’re not ready for them this week, we’re not going to be ready for them.”
Clark said there were several keys to coming away with a win over the Maroons and it all started with containing Hall.
“This kid is good. There’s no question he will make plays. We’ve just got to minimize the number of big plays,” Clark said. “We’ve got to get after the quarterback too. You can’t let him just sit back there and choose what he wants to do all night. He’s too good, he’ll pick you apart.”
But while Hall and the Maroon passing game command a lot of attention, Clark said stopping the Pulaski running game will be a focus for the Eagles.
“You’re not going to contain their offense, they are going to make some big plays. We’ve just got to make them one dimensional in one phase of the game. So we’ve got to stop the run,” Clark said. “I feel comfortable with our size and speed against them. This is a great football team, but they have not played a defense like ours. We are a physical team and they have not played speed like ours on defense.”
The Maroons defense has given up quite a few yards to running backs this year, none of which have been nearly as good as Harris.
Clark said he knows Pulaski will try to limit the damage Harris can do, but he’s confident his offense can be effective on the ground and also through the air.
“They are physical and they will get after us. They will run their safeties downhill and press their corners and try to make us throw the ball. But I think we can run the ball on them with success,” Clark said. “With their scheme, I think they are susceptible to the deep ball and with the kind of playmakers we have I think we can hurt them through the air as well.”
As is usually the case in big matchups like this one, turnovers can be the difference and Clark said that will be the case tonight.
“We have to secure the ball. The team with the fewest turnovers will win this game, I have not doubt in that,” Clark said. “Our goal is no turnovers while creating a couple from them. If you give the ball up to them, they will punish you. We have to have some sustained drives, protect the ball and keep their offense off the field.”
I think this is going to be one heck of a high school football game. I really do,” Clark added.
Kickoff for the Homecoming encounter is set for 7:30 p.m.