By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
Madison Southern football team will try to do something tonight that no other Eagles team has ever accomplished — beat Rockcastle County.
The Eagles are winless against the Rockets in their previous 18 encounters and would like nothing better than to put an end to the futility tonight when the two teams tangle in the season opener in Mt. Vernon.
Most people would not consider a matchup dominated by one team as much as this one has been, to be much of a rivalry.
But make no mistake about it, to a man, the Eagles and their coaching staff will tell you that despite the record, the rivalry is real, and they feel that this is the year they can bring the winless streak to a halt.
“They are by far our biggest rivals,” Southern coach Jon Clark said. “We are 0-18 against them. We are looking to win this game and we will do whatever it takes to win this game. This is going to be the hardest our team has ever played and we are excited.”
The team’s entire focus during the last few weeks of fall camp has been on the Rockets, Clark said, and getting the monkey off their backs once and for all it has reached a fever pitch this week.
“This means a lot to not only this year’s team, but to the entire program. We’ve had former players stop by several times this week to talk to the guys about what this rivalry means,” Clark said. “I know the coaches are fired up and we’ve been extremely hard on them this week. I know that by Friday they are going to be jacked up and ready to go, and I know our fans are going to be ready to go. It should be a great atmosphere down there.”
Rockcastle County football has always been known for its size and strength and physical style of play and this year’s edition of the Rockets continue that trend, Clark said.
But for the first time since he arrived in Berea, Clark said he thinks his team can match Rockcastle’s size and strength and have the weapons to come away with a victory.
“I think we match up well with them. I feel like we are physically different this year than we’ve ever been, so we feel like we can line up and play physical football with people this year and we’ve never been able to do that,” Clark said. “I think we are more athletic than they are, so I think speed will be a difference against them if we can get an open space.”
For the Eagles’ vaunted running game, led by Damien Harris, to get on track, Clark said it’s imperative that his offensive line sustain their blocks and control the line of scrimmage.
They must also provide protection for quarterback Devante Linville and protect the ball and limit turnovers.
Coming off a 2-8 season in 2012, this year’s Rockets offense is no slouch, led by senior quarterback Corey McPhetridge and running backs Brandon Jones and Chance Ansardi.
Keeping McPhetridge and Rockcastle’s option attack contained and sticking like glue to his receivers will be job one for the Southern defense, Clark said.
“Their quarterback concerns me most. He is an outstanding player, a tall, athletic kid with a good arm and he will punish you if you make mistakes,” Clark said. “Their receivers run good routes and they catch the ball. We’ve got to be disciplined and sound in our assignments to contain the quarterback in the option and put pressure on him, then we’ve got to tackle and wrap up in space.”
Clark said he feels like the team that wins the turnover battle will come out on top.
“Ball security is everything in this football game,” Clark said. “I firmly believe that if you look back at rivalry games, turnover margin wins the games. So we expect takeaways on defense this year and we expect not to put the ball on the ball on the ground.”
If they do those things they can win a game Clark said will be measuring stick for the program.
“I feel like this is a program check for us,” he said. “We have absolutely improved since we’ve been here, but if we are going to get where we want to get to, we’ve got to win the ones we need to win and for us this is a need to win game.”
Game time is 7:30 p.m. in Mt. Vernon.
Note: For fans attending the game, Rockcastle County plays its games at Rockcastle County Middle school and not at the high school. To get to the middle school located at 945 West Main Street, turn left at the light at the W. Main Street/KY 461 intersection. Rockcastle County High School can be seen on the hill on the right from the light.