By Brandon Speck/NEMS Daily Journal
Vardaman closed the regular season with five straight wins. The Rams’ last loss came against Coffeeville, a lopsided 48-0 road loss on Sept. 28.
“We played the worst game they’ve played since I’ve been here,” Vardaman coach Justin Hollis said. “Coffeeville played really well. They’ve got speed to burn. We’ve got to be sound tacklers.”
The two meet again Friday as the MHSAA Class 1A playoffs open. Hollis was preparing to watch a lot of film Sunday afternoon as his team tries to get to a second straight North title game.
The Rams lost seven seniors, and five underclassmen but still went 8-0 in Division 1-1A. Their other losses came to playoff teams East Webster and Bruce.
It may not help either team to watch film from their first meeting. Vardaman (8-3) was without starting quarterback Cody Jenkins and leading rusher Donta Walker was hobbled.
Jenkins has thrown for 1,256 yards and 18 touchdowns against only three picks. He is also the team’s second-leading rusher – 762 yards, 13 TDs.
“He’s a phenomenal player, a four-year starter at quarterback. Our kids know if Cody is standing back there, it’s amazing how he raises the level of other people around him,” Hollis said.
Walker has 889 yards on 149 carries and 11 touchdowns. Jenkins missed the September meeting with a sprain in his throwing shoulder. Not 100 percent the next week, he still managed 206 rushing yards, nearly 100 passing and accounted for four scores against Coldwater. Senior lineman Cody Smith leads the team with 7.0 tackles per game.
Thursday’s regular season finale was the first time this season Vardaman has played with everyone healthy.
“We feel like we’re going to outwork anybody,” Hollis said. “They’re willing to go the extra mile to get better. I think that game kind of propelled us on to where we are right now.”