Kendrick, Manchester first-round opponents set

dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 12, 2013 

The game between Kendrick and Manchester earlier this season, which Kendrick won, ended up being a big one.

It gave the Cherokees the third seed in the region and a date at Dade County, while Manchester must travel to state power Calhoun. To reach their goals, both will have to clear hurdles no matter what.

Here's a look at the first hurdle they face in Friday's opening round of the Class AA playoffs.

Kendrick at Dade County

When the Kendrick football team played in its first playoffs since 1999 last season, it was mostly about the experience.

Matched against Jefferson, the eventual state champion in Class AA, the Cherokees knew they had their hands full and the expectation was to play their best, learn something and have a little fun.

This year, expectations have changed. As the third seed out of Region 5-AA, Kendrick wants to do more than just show up on Friday at 2-seed Dade County. It wants to win.

"You always want, as a goal, to go a little further than last year," coach Jerry Dukes said. "That's what we want. That's what we talk about. We want to win. If you don't think those types of things, you can't grow. Our goal is and always has been to win a championship."

It's a goal, perhaps, still a little ways down the road. But it's nowhere near as far off as it was when the team was struggling through three consecutive one-win seasons and a two-win season from 2008-11.

Its win over Spencer in the regular season finale last Friday was Kendrick's fourth in a row, its longest since 1998.

"Most coaches would say we're peaking at the right time," Dukes said. "Our kids have definitely begun to peak a little bit. They're understanding what's before them."

What's before them is Dade County (7-3), a team, like Kendrick, making only its second playoff appearance since 1999. It won 10 games in 2010, but missed the playoffs the past two seasons. After a similarly slow start to the Cherokees, going 3-3 in its first six games, Dade County has won four straight by an average of 29 points.

"They run the Wing-T," Dukes said of Dade County. "They're a very scrappy bunch, kind of like us. They're quick, a little smaller from what we can tell on video, but very scrappy and quick. They're an aggressive defense and their linebackers come downhill on you. They're a good team and they're in the same position we're in. They want to win a championship."

But only one of the teams' championship hopes will be alive after this week.

"It's the playoffs," Dukes said. "You've got to win to keep playing. That's what we tell them: Stay with the fundamentals and enjoy the playoffs, but also understand it's win or go home. We want to keep going five more weeks."

Manchester at Calhoun

Manchester coach Tanner Glisson doesn't need you to point out the elephant in the room. He knows who he is facing on Friday in the first round of the playoffs. For the sake of clarity, though, here's a quick glimpse:

Twelve consecutive winning seasons, six state title appearances since 2001, including appearances in each of the past five seasons, and a state title in 2011.

That is Calhoun. That is the monstrosity the Blue Devils will travel to face on Friday.

Instead of seeing it as an unfortunate first-round draw, though, Glisson is looking at the positives.

"We had hoped to get that 3-seed," said Glisson, who is in his first season as the team's head coach. "But, we have a chance to see what the standard looks like. They're the model. … When I was an assistant coach here last year, we kind of looked ahead and figured this would be the down year. Then we came in and worked hard to get where we are. We've seen the standard in our region, Heard County, and that's what we're chasing. Now we can see what the state standard is."

Make no mistake, Manchester is playing to win the game. As former Jets coach Herm Edwards said in his now infamous rant, that's why you play the game.

But Glisson knows what it will take to make that a reality, and it is no small task.

Consider: If Manchester pulls off the improbable, it will end streaks of 12 straight seasons of 10 or more wins and 45 straight home wins for Calhoun. To do it, Glisson said his team must narrow the focus of the game.

"Our seniors went to Calhoun a few years ago when they were freshmen," Glisson explained. "We led that game 8-3 after the first quarter. They know what they're up against. We talk to them about not getting overwhelmed by the game. Don't go up there trying to win the ballgame, but go and try to win the next play. Beat them on the first play, then the next play and then the next play. Narrow the focus to one play at a time and push the game into the second half, then the fourth quarter."

And when Calhoun inevitable has some success, forget about it and move on.

"We can't take their whole playbook away, so we want to take away their top 2-3 running plays and 2-3 passing plays," Glisson said. "Try to make them play 'left-handed.'"

If they can do that, who knows?

"If nothing else, we're going to play hard," Glisson said.

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