There’s no questioning the fact that Shaw’s season has served as a major positive for a program undergoing a major culture change.
The Raiders have won more region games (three), than the previous three years combined (two), and won more games this year than the previous two seasons combined. These are all major talking points for the Raiders, who find themselves still in position to grab a playoff spot for the first time in coach Al Pellegrino’s tenure.
The Raiders’ 28-0 win over Columbus on a cold and rainy Saturday morning was just the start of a brutal end to their regular season: Shaw faces the region’s top seed Carver in Columbus next week, then travels to second-place Cairo the following week. The Raiders likely need to win both of those contests to have a shot at the playoffs as they close the season against LaGrange, a non-region opponent.
But playoffs aside, the Raiders’ final two region games provide an opportunity for Pellegrino and his staff to truly evaluate the team against some of the state’s top competition. Carver, which beat Cairo last week and cruised past Westover Thursday night, is on the cusp of its first region title since 2015. Cairo has not won a state title since 2008, but has lost just two region games since 2016.
To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. The Raiders must do so on a short week, as their game against Carver lands on a Thursday night.
“Well, you’re facing the No. 1 and the No. 2 team in the region,” Pellegrino said. “You measure yourself by who’s at top. ... It’s a quick week for us. We don’t appear to be really banged up, but that’s where you measure yourself. Those are two really good football teams, and we’re going to have to play mistake free. It’s going to be a tough road.”
Pellegrino knows there’s still work to be done, though it’s important not to put too much stock into a Saturday-morning game that had more combined fumbles than touchdowns.
“The weather conditions, we said whoever turns the ball over the most was going to fall short,” Pellegrino said. “I think they had more turnovers than we did, and I think that’s the tale of it.”
Pellegrino said his players were awake at 6:15 a.m. for game prep. Most players stayed the night at the school — around 35-to-38 kids, Pellegrino said — which helped the coaches make sure everybody was awake and ready to go.
The weather forced both coaches to calls a fairly conservative game. Quarterbacks rarely attempted passes, and when they did, the ball slipped through the gloves of intended receivers. Pellegrino said the weather limited the Raiders’ passing game.
So, the Raiders opted to go run-heavy, a plan that worked about as well as it could have given the circumstances. Shaw quarterback Wason Davis accounted for both of the Raiders’ first-half scores, both rushing touchdowns, and running back Amir Harper scored the game’s final two touchdowns.
“I think if the weather conditions were different, it might’ve been a different ballgame,” Pellegrino said.
That may be true, but a comfortable win over a region opponent, with the two toughest games of the season still to be played, is a good start.