An off week came at an opportune time for the West Lowndes High School football team.
Now the Panthers are primed to take care of their next piece to business.
After a week to heal an assortment of bumps and bruises from a pair of games against Class 4A competition, West Lowndes will return to the field at 7:30 tonight to take on East Oktibbeha County High School in a pivotal Class 1A, Region game.
West Lowndes enters the game 2-2 and 1-0 in region, while East Oktibbeha is 4-1 and 2-0. The Titans already have matched their win total from 2010.
EOCHS coach Randy Brooks has said several times this season that his team is focused on making the playoffs and earning a chance to play host to a playoff game, which has never been done at the school.
King, who was the head football coach at the school from 2008-09, knows how much of a motivating factor that goal is to the Titans. He coached many of the current EOCHS players when they were underclassmen, so he knows how special accomplishing that goal — and beating West Lowndes — would be to those players.
“It is a good rivalry game and the guys seem to be fired up about it,” King said. “It is a little strange for me (having coached at EOCHS). You kind of want to root for them, but you want to be beat them.”
West Lowndes has won the past five meetings on the field. It won 22-14 in 2006 but had to forfeit the victory. East Oktibbeha’s last win on the field was a 35-0 victory in 2005.
East Oktibbeha last had a winning season in 2006, when coach “Sleepy” Robinson led the Titans to the first round of the playoffs.
King replaced Robinson and then went on to become an assistant football coach at Noxubee County High. He accepted the job to replace Bobby Berry as coach at his alma mater (formerly known at Motley High) late in the summer.
King hopes the Panthers have learned lessons from tough losses to Caledonia and Shannon. He feels those games should have provided challenges his team most likely won’t see in Class 1A.
“I think we’re ready,” King said. “We had a couple of guys get healthy after being banged up. I think we’re going into the game as good as we can health wise.”
King said sophomore quarterback Justin Stephenson will start at quarterback despite suffering from assorted aches and pains. He said the Panthers will look to senior running back Antonio Wilson, who has 615 yards and five touchdowns, to help set the tone.
But he knows other Panthers have to step up to take the pressure of Wilson, who is bound to have a bull’s eye on he back from here on out.
“He knew coming into the season he was going to be the focal point, and we have a lot of plays designed to use Antonio as a decoy,” King said. “I think (all of the attention Wilson attracts) will kind of work in our advantage. We have other guys who will have to step up because everybody is going to key on Antonio.”
King said the Panthers will work a lot of play-action pass in an attempt to keep defenses guessing. If those players emerge, King likes his team’s chances to stay alive deep into the postseason.
“If we’re going to make a run in the playoffs it starts now,” King said. “We got off to a good start in the district against Ethel. Going into a rivalry game, our defense has to step up and our playmakers have to step up if we’re going to go deep into the playoffs. I expect a lot more out of the seniors.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.