The Wayne County Cardinals make the short trip to Southwestern this Friday night for a much-anticipated contest with the homestanding Warriors. The Cardinals enter the contest with a 2-1 mark on the season and are coming off an impressive 62-27 win at Rockcastle County, while Southwestern owns a 1-2 record on the season and is coming off a 22-7 loss at Knox Central, last Friday night. The matchup marks just the third meeting all time between the two schools, as Wayne County won the inaugural matchup 42-20 in 2013 and Southwestern answered with a 30-2 win in 2014, at Jewell Field.
"Since we are district rivals in so many other sports, even though we've only played twice at the varsity level, this is a rivalry game, I guess. We know they do a lot of different stuff on offense and do a nice job out of the 40-look with various looks in the secondary on defense. They have very good size on both sides of the football and the excitement of having a new coach, we know it should be another tough challenge on our schedule," said Cardinals 16th year head coach Shawn Thompson.
Southwestern posted a 10-3 mark in 2018 and once again that led to another loss to crosstown rival Pulaski County for the district and region titles, which led Larry French leaving for Middlesboro and the Jason Foley Era to begin. Foley, a longtime successful middle school coach at Pulaski Northern, comes back to town after two seasons at Taylor County produced a 19-6 mark and the school's first-ever region championship last season. This year the squad is off to a slow start with losses to Belfry 31-7 and Knox Central around their lone win, a 35-34 overtime decision, at Madison Southern.
The Warriors are averaging 16.3 points per game and just over 255 yards per outing with 152 of that on the ground led by senior running back Austin Barnes. Barnes has 18 attempts for 127 yards with a touchdown thru two games, while Chase Doan has 32 carries for a 122 yards with a score, plus 3 receptions for 17 yards in stats provided for two games. Senior quarterback Blake Burton has been efficient in the air, completing 19 of 35 passes for 202 yards with a touchdown, with no interceptions.
"They have a solid running game and the thing that's really scary is how well they can pass the ball, so both of those things are a concern. We have to do a better job of tackling and we must get more pressure in the box, which should help out our secondary. We have played better in spots, but we're looking for more consistent effort with a much higher level of intensity for four quarters," said Thompson.
Wayne County is allowing 30.7 points per game and 392 yards of offense for their opponents with 236 of that coming on the ground the first three games.
"We have to do a better job of getting off the field on third down and we know big plays are going to happen, but we're allowing way too many. We want to be more aggressive, swarm as a unit better and really improve our play in the trenches," said Thompson.
The Cardinal defense is led by the 29 total tackles and 1 sack of senior linebacker Cody Vaughn, while sophomore linebacker Lee Shelton is second on the unit with 27 total stops and an interception. Seniors Riley Hancock and Tito Ruiz have 21 and 15 tackles respectively, while Cody Roysdon has 18 stops with a team best 4 tackles for a loss, as the unit looks for improved play, as the district season draws nearer.
The Wayne County offense is tallying 43.3 points per game and 436 yards of offense and that starts with junior running back and All-State candidate Braedon Sloan. Sloan has rushed for 601 yards and 10 TDs on just 56 carries and also leads the receivers with 6 catches for 143 yards and 3 scores, while senior wide receiver Tito Ruiz leads the team in receptions with 8 and has 135 yards with 2 scores. A new wrinkle added last week was 6-4 senior Thomas Spencer, as the first-year varsity member totaled 2 catches for 80 yards in the win last week, at Rockcastle County.
Junior Brody Weaver is the signal caller and second leading rusher, as the two-year starter has completed 27 of 54 passes for 509 yards with 6 TDs, against 2 interceptions and has rushed 23 times for 101 yards and 2 scores. The Warriors are allowing 29 points per game, but held defending regional champion Knox Central to just 22 points last week.
"We have to get better in all areas of our passing game, especially unhappy with our performance last week. We have to block better up-front and run better routes, plus we need Brody to make the correct reads and take care of the football. We also have to improve our run-blocking as Braedon had a couple touchdowns last week that were more about his athletic ability and less about open holes. We need to play lower and make sure we're putting a hat on somebody every play," said Thompson.
One area that has shown marked improvement the past two weeks is special teams as sophomore Patrick Radilla is a perfect 11 of 11 on extra points and Tito Ruiz has netted almost 38 yards per punt the past two games.
"Our return game has been pretty solid, so we're winning the battle for field-position with solid punts and kickoffs. We're also booting our extra points at a high clip, so those are all good things in close games.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 pm Friday night at Southwestern High School's Reservation.
"This is as close a road game as we'll play, so hopefully we'll pack the house and be loud all night long. We've had great crowds all three weeks with two of those on the road, so this quick trip we expect another great showing by our fans. It's awesome for our guys and means so much to our program," said Thompson.
Details on the matchup in next week's edition of The Outlook.