When the Paris varsity football team, 2-7 overall, takes the field for its Class 1, District 5, opener on Friday at South Shelby, 3-5-1 overall, the matchup appears pretty even on paper.
But, upon closer examination, the Cardinals may have several minor advantages. That begs the question as to whether or not the Coyotes have what it takes to step up and earn themselves their first postseason victory since downing Scotland County on Oct. 30, 2015.
"We are passing the ball better than we have been," said coach Gary Crusha. "I would like to see our line run block better, and for our tackling to improve."
One issue working in South Shelby's favor is that sophomore Kanon Kendrick and senior Dylan Threlkeld have both seen a fair amount of playing time. While that will be an advantage should the starter go down, the duo has combined to complete just 24-of-62 passes for 281 yards, two touchdowns and 12 interceptions. That means this teams road to victory doesn't start under center.
South Shelby's success is much more deeply rooted in a ground attack that was highlighted by 2,522 total yards this year on 375 carries. The jewel in that crown has been Brock Wood, a 6-foot, 165 lb. junior with 1,180 yards on 123 rushes and 13 touchdowns according to maxpreps.com. Complimenting that effort by running the ball 130 times for 869 yards and 11 scores was senior Cody McKenzie.
Considering Threlkeld has also ran for 318 yards and three touchdowns on 52 carries, Paris is well aware what style of offense it'll be facing come Friday.
"Our opponent runs the ball well. They have two talented running backs," Crusha said. "They are aggressive on defense, and tackle well."
Even though the Coyotes do have a much more refined air attack compared to the Cardinals, signal caller Breck Hancock is as much a threat to run as he is to throw. For example, in 2017 he connected on 48-of-116 passes for 508 yards, three touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He's also ran the ball 117 times for 476 yards and four touchdowns, making him the leading rusher on the team despite Kaison Berrey carrying the ball 111 times for 453 yards and six scores.
"We hope we have improved some this season. Some of our younger guys have gained valuable experience," said Crusha. "Last years experience has no role in what we are preparing for this week."
In an effort to keep the focus on the here and now Hancock and his team-high 126 tackles should find themselves in a position to make plays once the playoffs begin for Paris. With Devin Brandl also racking up two sacks this season and Brandon Williams making three interceptions and recovering a fumble, the Coyotes are hoping to vary their efforts just enough so that players like Trenton Morgan, Dallas Howard and Andrew Young can play supporting roles instead of also having to take centerstage.
As for who Paris needs to look out for on the South Shelby defense, senior Luke Farrell has a team-high 71 tackles and Nathan Morath has 58 defensive stops, which includes four sacks. Also claiming four sacks so far this season is Phillip Hercules. Add to that the nine interceptions the Cardinals have made this year and Threkeld, Brock Wood and Daniel Burke each appear just a little bit more proficient than they probably are,
"We see this team every year in the jamboree and we faced them two years ago in a district championship game," Crusha said.
Even though the Coyotes did lose that district title game 35-28 on Nov. 6, 2015, because its focused on moving forward, the final part of any offering these coaches would have to consider is special teams. That means Paris could end up feeling a little lost if it loses Hancock considering no one else has kicked off or punted this year. But, since Williams has 11 kickoff returns for 163 yards and four punt returns for 49 yards, the squad doesn't have all of its eggs in one basket.