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Wildcats look to continue unbeaten run

By Tyler Clifton tclifton@marshallnewsmessenger.com
Nov. 22, 2013 at 10 p.m.


WASKOM - His football team pretty much breezed through its bi-district playoff game against Union Grove last week in Hallsville, but Waskom head coach Whitney Keeling knows nothing comes easy.

The Wildcats (11-0) won their first playoff game since 1992 with a dominating 56-17 win in a matchup of two teams with a combined 66 seasons of not making the playoffs. Next up is Rosebud-Lott (9-2) for a 3 p.m. Class 2A Division II area-round matchup today at Southlake Carroll's Dragon Stadium.

"We can always get better when it comes to executing our offense and tackling on defense," Keeling said. "It's about minimizing our mistakes at this point, lining up correctly and things of this nature."

Expect to see and hear the name Johnson quite a bit Saturday, as there will be no fewer than six of them on the field at any given moment. It includes Cougar senior quarterback Artis Johnson and his 3,174 yards of total offense along with senior wide receiver D.J. Johnson and back Andrew Moore.

Juwon Roberson and Kyle Parker give Rosebud Lott two more options at receiver and running back, respectively, behind offensive linemen Perrey Laury and Austin Talafuse to create quite an offense.

"Their quarterback is a really good football player who makes great decisions and seems to be smart football wise when it comes to not making negative plays," Keeling said. "We don't need to worry about making the knockout shot but must wrap up and hang on tight. They're a really balanced football team."

It puts a tremendous focus on Waskom's front line, particularly senior All-State participant Justin Spurlin, whose hustle on a bad snap of a potential punt last week resulted in a defensive touchdown.

Waskom lost a big piece of its defensive puzzle in Chandrin Amie, but fellow sophomore Mike Reason moved into the middle linebacker spot and continued to impress last week with 10 tackles. Nigel Brown and Kevin Johnson were also noted for their strong defensive play during last week's convincing win.

"Their offense puts a lot of pressure on our kids to step up their play, and what we can't afford to do is get into a mode of where we're having to blitz," Keeling said. "Mike is a tremendous kid who we moved around and had to step up in the middle linebacker role after losing Chan. He's one of our leaders."

When it comes to offense, Waskom continues to run its triple-option style successfully, and quarterback Trace Carter has not only managed the group but benefited from the scheme in his own right with 686 yards and 11 touchdowns on 99 carries. The rich got richer last week, when fullback Dillon Benton ran five times for 145 yards and showed his big-play ability with touchdown runs of 68 and 74 yards.

Benton (76 carries, 970 yards, 15 touchdowns) will most likely become the team's third 1,000-yard rusher this week for a unit which has amassed 5,455 yards and is averaging 56 points per game. It's a brand of offense Rosebud-Lott isn't used to playing when it comes to what type of defense it will run.

"It's a good question, because we really don't know what they're going to do," Keeling said. "They haven't faced anything similar to us, but I expect them to be in some form of 50 look with three down linemen and stacked linebackers. Their front four are pretty good football players, and the quarterback is their best football player who also plays at free safety. We hope to be making it into their secondary."

Waskom's overall philosophy has definitely been working the past 12 weeks, from beating rival Elysian Fields to set the tone for a strong finish which included a convincing win in Week 10 at Hughes Springs.

In order to have an opportunity to match the program's longest run of the regional quarterfinals in 1992, the Wildcats must find a way to win this cat fight with the Cougars and await the winner between Arp and fellow unbeaten Crawford next week. What Waskom can't do though is look too far ahead.

"We do have a game plan when it comes to our opponent, but the biggest deal for us is executing what we do as a team and not allow Waskom to beat Waskom so to speak," Keeling said. "It might look simple to the naked eye, but in reality, it's not. We believe in our football team, and it's important for us to do what we can defensively to keep them out of the end zone and give our offense extra possessions."

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