By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
The Madison Southern Eagles control their own destiny heading into their final game of the regular season.
If they Beat Lincoln County (5-4) on the road tonight, they secure a home playoff game against Perry County Central in two weeks.
If they lose to the Patriots, then things get a whole lot more complicated and the Eagles could very likely have to open the playoffs on the road at a yet to be determined opponent.
A loss would drop the Eagles into a three-way tie for second place in the district with Lincoln and North Laurel and require multiple tie-breakers to determine who gets to host a playoff game and who has to hit the road in the first round.
The Eagles are coming off their best overall performance of the year, a 56-28 domination of North Laurel last week.
In that game, Southern showed a much more balanced offense with six players carrying the ball and a renewed passing attack led by a much-improved quarterback Aaron Slone.
Southern coach Jon Clark said the new-look offense will be on display a lot more as the playoffs draw near.
“That is our identity. We have multiple guys who are big-time run threats. We have some new formations we’ve sprinkled in, we spread it out a little bit more and we feel a lot more comfortable where we are in the passing game,” Clark said. “We’re getting a lot closer to what we are going to look like from here on out.”
Slone’s maturity at quarterback, Clark said, is a big reason for the improvement in the passing game.
“We are able to do some things now that we haven’t been able to do as far as checking down on plays at the line of scrimmage,” Clark said. “Now that our quarterback understands those it makes a big difference for our offense now.”
The Eagles’ defense, a unit that took a lot of heat after a loss to Pulaski County two weeks ago, came out against the Jaguars and made a statement, showing that it is one of the best in the region.
Taking down Lincoln County will be no easy task. The Patriots are a lot like Southwestern, a big, strong, physical team, but unlike the Warriors, they can put a lot of points on the board, 212 on the season.
But as has been the case several times this year, Clark said the Eagles’ superior speed will be a difference in the game.
“Their D-line is 285-300 pounds, they are very Southwestern-ish, but we definitely have an advantage in team speed and we’ll use that to our advantage,” Clark said.
The Patriots are a very disciplined team and will not quit, Clark said.
“They’ve won some games late because they are very well-coached and they won’t quit,” Clark said. “They were right in that Pulaski County game (61-35 loss) late but they had some late turnovers that PC turned into points to pull away.”
The Eagles’ defense has shown a knack for creating turnovers all season and Clark said that will play a part in tonight’s game.
The Patriots are very similar to the Eagles on offense, Clark said, running out of similar sets that Southern uses, and they usually split the running plays with passes about 50/50.
On defense, Clark said he expects the Patriots to use a 4-4 defense and walk their linebackers up to the line of scrimmage to support against the run and to try to force Southern to throw the ball.
“They tried that against us last year and we didn’t handle it very well in the first quarter, but after we got our feet under us we handled quite well the rest of the way,” Clark said. “I would be shocked if we don’t get something like that early on.”
Southern’s special teams will also be counted on tonight because Lincoln County has one of the better kickers in the region and does a very good job in the kicking game, Clark said.
Kickoff for tonight’s game is set for 7:30 p.m. in Stanford.