For the better part of three decades, Spencer has been a doormat in high school football. In the 36 seasons since 1977, the Greenwave have one playoff appearance (1993) and zero — repeat, zero — winning seasons.
Kendrick High hasn’t been a whole lot better. The culture began to shift last season when it clinched its first playoff berth since 1999, but its last winning season came in 1995.
The years of futility can come to an end on Friday when the two teams, both 5-4 and sitting one win from a playoff berth, meet in the regular season finale at 4 p.m. at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium.
Despite the historical significance, neither coach is putting too much emphasis on the specifics. A win means a playoff berth, and that’s all the players need to know.
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“The kids know what’s at stake, and the biggest thing is they’re ready to be put in the spotlight,” said Spencer coach Calvin Arnold, who is in his second season as the man in charge. “I touched on (the winning record) a little, but I don’t want to harp on it too much because the past is the past.”
That’s more or less what Cherokees coach Jerry Dukes felt about the whole thing.
“It’s a byproduct,” he said about earning a winning record. “We just want to get into the playoffs. We’re not looking at records or at what was or what has been. We want to get into the playoffs and not just one in and out, but to get in and win a ballgame.”
It will likely need to get through Spencer in order for that to happen, but that will be easier said than done.
Spencer has sported a high-powered offense for each of the past two seasons, scoring 39 or more points in four of its nine games in 2013. The difference this season, though, has been the emergence of a defense that was nonexistent a year ago.
“That’s been the whole plan since last year,” Arnold said. “If we could ever just get the defense going, that would be the biggest thing for us. We could score on anybody just about.”
After holding just one opponent to less than 20 points in last season’s 3-7 campaign, Spencer has limited three teams to 8 or fewer points in 2013.
Still, the Greenwave are facing more history, which has favored the Cherokees in the vast majority of the teams’ meetings. Only six times in 41 meetings has Spencer emerged victorious, and none has ever had as much riding on it as does this matchup.
Dukes said last season, winning in the final game to make the playoffs and playing against the eventual state champion in the first round, has prepared Kendrick for this type of showdown.
“It’s not easier,” he clarified first. “But I don’t think this bunch gets nervous about anything. They just play ball.”
The teams know enough about each other that there won’t be many surprises. Spencer wide receiver Richard Jones and coach Calvin Arnold both mentioned their opponent’s offensive line. Dukes and his players mentioned Spencer’s passing game.
What it comes down to is execution and focus, tuning out the importance a win would have on the program. Players from both teams said that won’t be a problem.
“We know that Friday we have a chance to change history,” Spencer defensive end Juanyae Wilson said. “The coaches try to keep us humble, though. It’s something we’ll worry about once we get the victory.”
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