Amory High football coach Pat Byrd will be returning to his alma mater tonight.
If his Panthers are going to play the spoiler role and knock off Itawamba AHS in its first home game at Indian Stadium, it will take a significant maturation of his team’s players.
“We got 16 of 22 kids who started their first varsity football game on Friday night,” Byrd, a 1984 IAHS graduate, said of his team’s season-opening 19-15 loss to Nettleton last week. “They had that deer-in-the-headlights look.
“We have to settle down and play football. If we don’t, it will be a long night.”
IAHS, the Daily Journal’s fourth-ranked team, will open its new $1.7 million stadium and its 2009 season tonight against a familiar opponent. Despite beating the Panthers 35-14 in Fulton last year, the Indians have lost two of their last three meetings with the Panthers.
“It will be jam-packed wall to wall, and it will make for a good high school environment,” IAHS head coach Jamie Mitchell said about his team’s opener.
Tonight’s game will also be the first of the season for Amory tackle Nathan Kendrick – who missed last week’s game with a stomach virus – and the first career starts for four Itawamba AHS linemen.
“That will be the first time for several of the guys to get battle tested in a game,” Mitchell said of his offensive line. “We’re going to be extremely inexperienced on both the offensive and defensive lines.”
The Indians did not play in a MHSAA Classic Game last week, and by not playing last week has its advantages and disadvantages, says Mitchell.
“There’s a couple of ways you can look at it,” said the fourth-year Itawamba coach. “We had the opportunity to see Amory play a game, but the downside is we haven’t played a game yet.
“I think that you could look at it either way: You got an advantage to work out things that didn’t work out too well in the first game or you have the opportunity to do some scouting of your opponent to get a better idea of what they run.”
‘The effort was there’
According to Byrd, what Amory needs to work on after Week 1 is execution.
“The effort was there early last week,” the Amory coach said. “The mistakes we made last week were strictly execution: not executing blocking assignments; not running the right route.
“Defensively, for the most part, we played well. We missed some tackles on a couple of big plays. We caused seven fumbles, but only recovered two of them.”
The Panthers will have to tackle the Indians’ skill players well if they want to leave Indian Stadium with their first victory of 2009. Maikhail Miller will begin his second season as the Indians’ starting quarterback, and is a threat with both his arm and his legs.
Miller has 1,300-yard rusher Deshaun McGaughy to hand off to in the backfield, and tight end Dillon Mitchell and wide receiver Asian Ruff to throw to. Mitchell led the team in receiving last year with 22 receptions for 409 yards.
“They’re so skilled, especially on offense,” Byrd said. “Offensively, they can attack you so many ways.
“You can’t sell out against the pass because (McGaughy) will get so many yards on the ground. They spread you out.”
Other games to watch
n Baldwyn at Booneville: The Bearcats begin their defense of their Class 2A state title against a Blue Devils team that scored 41 points against New Albany last week.
n Houston at Calhoun City: Perry Liles’ Wildcats got beat by his former team, Coffeeville, last week, and they look to get their first win of 2009 against a Hilltoppers team that got thumped by Eupora, 40-14, last Friday.
n Memphis East at Shannon: The Daily Journal’s No.1-ranked Red Raiders will have their hands full against a very good Memphis team, which lost 23-14 to Olive Branch last Friday.
n Nettleton at North Pontotoc: The Tigers are coming off a big win over Amory, while the Vikings are looking to go 2-0 under first-year coach J.J. Plummer.
n New Albany at Ripley: A traditional opener for the Tigers, Ripley will hope to continue its high-scoring ways against a Bulldogs team that surrendered 41 points to Booneville.
n Pontotoc at South Pontotoc: The Cougars are coming off a huge win over perennial small-school power East Webster, while the Warriors, who area coaches are expecting to be much improved, will be kicking off their 2009 campaign.