A week off can do wonders for your football team.
Immanuel Christian coach Greg Watkins already has seen a difference in his team after a week off following a 25-14 loss to Canton Academy on Sept. 16.
Now Watkins hopes Immanuel Christian (1-4) will be able to build momentum at 7 p.m. Friday against Carroll Academy before it returns to the final stretch of the regular season that will determine its postseason fate.
The Rams are 0-2 in the Mississippi Association of Independent School Class AA, District 2. With games remaining against Manchester Academy, Winston Academy, and Oak Hill Academy, Immanuel Christian has to make up ground if it wants to finish as one of the top two teams in its six-team district. Manchester Academy (2-0) and Leake Academy (1-0) are the only remaining unbeaten teams in the district.
Immanuel Christian also can earn a playoff berth as one of two wild card teams. Aside from the top two teams from the North and from the South, the two teams with the best records and power point rating will advance.
Watkins said those playoff possibilities provide plenty of motivation for a team that used the week off to get healthy. Even though all of his players aren’t 100 percent, Watkins said they are closer to that mark than they would be if they had played last week.
“We had a couple of ankles, a shoulder and an elbow injury, so the week off helped them tremendously,” Watkins said.
Watkins said senior running back Norris Harris is at 85-90 percent as he recovers from an ankle injury. He said junior Zach Kimbrell is about 80 percent, while junior Logan Shackelford (shoulder) is “feeling a whole lot better” and senior running back Michael Tate will wear a brace to protect a torn ligament in his elbow.
“Two of those guys would not have played this past Friday,” Watkins said. “We probably would have aggravated the two ankles. There is not a whole lot we can do, but it seems like we will go in (against Carroll Academy) as healthy as we have been in a while.”
Watkins said the Rams can take confidence from the fact that Class AA, District 1 opponent Carroll Academy (2-4) nearly beat Manchester Academy (a 37-36 loss on Sept. 23). The district races received a jolt when Manchester Academy beat preseason favorite Winston Academy, so Watkins feels several teams have the potential to challenge for playoff spots.
Watkins said continued execution on offense and improved play on defense are keys for Immanuel Christian if it wants to be in that group.
“We have gone into the past two weeks talking about defense,” Watkins said. “We know that is where we’re going to have to step up our game if we’re going to make the playoffs.”
Watkins said the Rams have shifted personnel on both sides of the ball in an attempt to get better execution and to be more aggressive. On defense, he hopes to utilize his team speed at key positions to help the Rams get a better push up front.
Immanuel Christian will have two games to test its changes. Next week, it will play host to Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 2A opponent Potts Camp for Homecoming.
“We talked this week about challenging our defense to step up and not to rely on our offense as much,” Watkins said.
If the Rams can do that, Watkins likes his team’s chances. He knows the final three games will be some of the toughest tests of the season, but he hopes a week off at the right time of the year will pay big dividends.
“Hopefully we will get things going Friday and have a good week with Homecoming and be healthy going into those last three games,” Watkins said.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.