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October 27, 2010
Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
Thursday night in Louisiana, two teams ranked in the RivalsHigh Top 100 will square off for a District 9 title and the pole position in the Class 4A playoff race.
But neither Shane Smith, the head coach of No. 75 Franklinton (La.) High, nor Jerry Leonard, the head coach of No.42 Slidell (La.) Salmen, thinks it means all that much.
"It's a big game, of course," Leonard said. "But it is still a regular-season game. It isn't do-or-die. It isn't the playoffs.
"It's just a game on Thursday night."
All modesty and coach speak aside, it is also the RivalsHigh Game of the Week.
"It is important," Smith said. "But not as important as it would be if this game took place next month. We will get to find out how we stand up to each other."
Franklinton has stood up quite well with Salmen in recent games, owning a 3-1 advantage since the two started trading blows in 2007 - when Franklinton moved up to Class 4A from 3A.
And the teams have become all too familiar with each other.
"These are really the same two groups who have been playing each other for the last three years," Smith said. "A lot of my guys have been starting that long and same with the kids over there."
That would seem to bode well for the Demons as they won the semifinal game last season, 60-0, after escaping the regular-season game, 20-14, for the season sweep.
This will also be the first true test of both teams in the last month.
Franklinton hardly has been slowed during its seven-game win streak after stumbling in the opening week game against Abilene (Texas) High.
"The worry we have," Smith said, "is that we haven't seen anyone with Salmen's talent level since Abilene. From an athletic standpoint, they present a lot of problems for us."
The main problem is the play of Salmen three-star athlete Daniel Sams.
Sams, who committed to Kansas State two weeks ago, leads the state in all-purpose yards and is closing in on 3,000 for the season.
"I do a lot of everything," Sams told GoPowercat.com earlier this month. "I play quarterback, running back, wide receiver. I move around the offense based on the play we are running."
As far as Salmen, the team remains unbeaten, but has not seen as physical a team since its 28-21 victory over River Ridge (La.) John Curtis over a month ago.
"Playing Curtis certainly toughened us up," Leonard said. "Franklinton has some very physical backs and we will use what we learned with Curtis in this one."
Salmen will need to be ready for a healthy dose of the run.
"Just as they are a better passing team than normal," Smith said, "we are a better running team than normal.
"It really started with the Abilene game. They only put five in the box against us, and we like to spread it out, so it was harder to pass, so we ran. It made us more complete."
The completeness is aided with two SEC-level players in the backfield.
"We need to limit the big plays," Leonard said. "With their quarterback, running back and wide receiver, they like to get yards in big chunks. We need to make them earn their way down the field."
Both teams think that the key to the game will not be those elite prospects.
"The kids who are the major players probably won't decide this game," Leonard said. "You know what to expect from them, you know they are going to show up and play. It is the kids who you don't hear about, the kids who don't grab the headlines that will be the difference in this one."
And both coaches think they have a couple kids who can make that difference.
"We need (linebacker) Josh Adams, (wide receiver) Jamal Robinson, our center Bobby Tate, and Ben Ryan (who plays on both the offensive and defensive lines) to come up big," Leonard said.
Smith only singled out Reggie Wilson as a player he thinks could have a big game, but he did say that one group in particular needs to step up its play.
"It will be on our defensive line," he said. "It is a tough assignment to contain their quarterback (Sams), but that will be their task."
The task for each coach is to make sure his team is ready to play Thursday and into the playoffs.
"We are fortunate to be getting the national attention," Smith said. "We could have really be in that spotlight had we beaten Abilene, but right now, it is all about preparing our players to get ready for the playoffs and this game and this focus is part of that."
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