By Brandon Speck
When Ripley coach Chad Cook and then-Falkner coach Cory Armstrong arranged for the Tippah rivals to square off, it was for the community.
It still will be when the teams meet tonight at 7 in Ripley, but Cook’s focus is squarely on his Tigers (2-0), looking to leap over the second-round playoff hurdle that tripped them the last two seasons.
If the game was later in the year, like the rivalry game – and playoff game – in last season’s final week against New Albany, it would mean that much more.
What means more to Cook is to get Ripley, the Journal No. 1 Class 4A/3A school, in check. Despite the Tigers scoring 83 points in two wins to start this season …
“We need more consistent touchdown drives,” Cook said. “We’ve got so many things we’re doing hindering us from being a better team.”
Cook said Ripley has had maybe six touchdown drives that took less than 14 seconds, but 10 three-and-outs in less than 10 seconds. He isn’t complaining about an explosive team. He just knows it can be even more explosive.
Of the 15 players in last year’s offensive rotation, only wide receiver Isaiah Howard and lineman Michael Story returned. And Story moved from left guard to left tackle. Four of the five up front were starting junior varsity linemen a season ago.
“We’re not there consistently yet,” Cook said. “We can go two or three drives and not even have to have a defense out there and have a three-and-out. The next drive they can put 20 out there and we score a touchdown.”
While a good defensive nucleus returned, special teams play and turnovers have helped lead in a new offensive group. Ripley has averaged nearly 20 yards per punt return and has recovered the ball on six kicks or punts.
It’s not a complaint. It’s pushing a talented group to use all the talent.
They know that, because they know Cook after three years with the staff.
“It’s been a fun group to coach,” Cook said. “There’s been one day in a 20-minute section where I was displeased.”
Falkner (1-1) at Ripley (2-0)
QB Jase Stroupe threw for 119 yards and 2 TDs in a loss at Walnut … Jeramie Lawrence had 111 yards and 3 TDs …
WR Isaiah Howard caught a pair of TD passes in a win against North Pontotoc … Garfield Campbell had a career-high 121 yards on 16 carries … Tucker Childers threw for 176 yards on 12 of 18 passing.
• Ripley forced two North Pontotoc fumbles at the 7-yard line.
• The Tigers outgained North 372-115.
• Ripley has scored 44 points on opponents’ 8 turnovers while surrendering 0 points on its own 4 turnovers.
• In a loss, Falkner outgained Walnut 348-287
UP NEXT: Falkner at Hamilton; North Panola at Ripley