Friday: Greenville St. Joseph (7-3) at Okolona (8-3)
Read more about the football playoffs in Friday’s Daily Journal.
Ken Byars thinks his Okolona team is back to its old self.
After a 5-0 start, the Chieftains lost three of four before closing out the regular season with wins over Biggersville and Thrasher. True, those are cellar-dwelling teams, but Byars thinks his team found its old form on defense and is better offensively. He’ll find out when Greenville St. Joseph visits for a Class 1A first-round playoff game.
“The past two weeks, we really needed a confidence booster,” the first-year coach said, “to get the confidence back that we can compete.”
Okolona’s defense, which was pasted for 52 points by East Webster on Oct. 19, is led by linebackers Justin Cherry and Willie Grady. Byars insists the following numbers are legit: 124 tackles, 43 TFL, 18 sacks for Cherry; 118 tackles, 64 TFL, 19.5 sacks for Grady.
Those stats are a product of Byars’ aggressive schemes. He said Grady is more of a rush end, and that if doesn’t hit the ball carrier at or behind the line of scrimmage, then he probably won’t make a tackle.
St. Joseph will test that defense with running back Ladarius Perkins, who’s rushed for 1,713 yards and 28 touchdowns.
“We’re back to form,” Byars said. “Two shutouts in a row, and very, very few yards.”
As for Okolona’s offense, Byars will look to Grady, but he’s also been getting good production from junior Shaquille Wilson, who’s rushed for 426 yards and four TDs over the last three games. He will be valuable against a St. Joseph defense that likes to blitz.
“The game plan doesn’t change,” Byars said. “We’re still going to try to win with defense and score enough points to win.”