HUNTINGBURG — Southern Indiana football fans have become accustomed to tough matchups between Gibson Southern and Southridge, with the two teams traditionally facing off in week nine to prepare each other for the impending postseason.
As the saying goes, football’s a game of inches, and in this matchup, whoever’s come up with that final inch or slew of big plays has traditionally triumphed.
Just last season Gibson Southern defeated the Raiders 22-21 in a nail-biter, after the Titans closed the game on a 15-0 run to steal the victory.
While the two teams face off in week five, rather than week nine this year, Gibson Southern Head Football Coach Nick Hart doesn’t expect much else to waver in what should be another entertaining matchup.
“The past few years we’ve played these guys and it’s been really close,” Hart spoke of the matchup. “Last year we gave up a big kickoff return, we had a turnover, they started two drives within our 10-yard-line. It seems big plays, big turnovers have always kind of swung the game between us and them, you’ve got two good programs going at it.”
For this year’s matchup, the Raiders hope to exploit a Gibson Southern defense that’s struggled to contain the run with the trademarked spread offense.
Led by senior quarterback Chase Taylor (471 rushing yards, 10 TDs), the Raider offense has rushed for an average of 387 yards per contest. They feature four different guys who are comfortable and productive carrying the rock — all averaging 7 yards per rush or better — and figure to give the Titan defense fits.
Meanwhile, the Titan defense was just gashed for 423 rushing yards by Boonville’s Devin Mockobee. Hart says he has concerns matching up against such a volatile offense, but also indicated he felt some of their rushing woes were due to alignment or missed assignment issues, and could be remedied.
“That shotgun, Wing-T offense, you’ve got to be really disciplined defensively and honestly we haven’t been,” Hart said. “If we don’t get better at that aspect we’re going to see another big rushing night put up against us. We’ve got to get much better on that side of the ball this week.”
On the flip side, the Raiders have an equally tough assignment. They’re tasked with gameplanning against the Gibson Southern offense.
Headlined by junior quarterback Brady Allen — a Purdue commit — who’s tossed for 769 yards and 10 touchdowns this year, the Titan offense is continuing to grow confidence and momentum.
Recently teams have committed to slowing down Allen and the Titan passing game, which has opened the door for senior running back Owen Bryant.
Bryant’s rushed for over 100 yards and two scores in each of his past two contests, and has found considerable running lanes behind his offensive line.
The Raiders have a choice. Drop six defensive backs back, try to complicate things for Allen and make his life miserable, or throw six or seven in the box, and hope your defensive backs can contain Allen and the Titan receivers. Either way, the Titans feel confident in their offense.
“We’ve seen some really light boxes,” Hart spoke of Bryant’s recent success. “Five in the box, that obviously makes it easier to run the football when you’ve got just five in there. It really helps, then you’ve proven you can run the football, you get defenses in a pick your poison type of deal, where they throw more guys in coverage and let Owen run loose, or do you play more straight up and get the stops you can in the air. I think it’s great for us to get both the ground and air going, it really puts a lot of stress on the defense.”
Defensively, Southridge looks the part — at least on paper.
The Raiders held Boonville scoreless in a 28-0 victory over the Pioneers on Aug. 28, and are allowing just 5.3 points per game this season. Arguably, the Raiders should pose the Titans perhaps their best challenge for the remainder of the season. And ultimately, whoever has the ball last could decide who wins it.
“Yeah, two out of the last three years we scored really late to beat them,” Hart said. “Even some of the games we’ve won against them where the spread’s been a little bigger, it was a nail-biter and we pulled away late or something. It’s always a hard fought battle when we play. I’m expecting much of the same on Friday.”
Friday’s (Sept. 18) game at Southridge will kickoff at 6:30 p.m.
Matchups to monitor
Can the Titan defense contain Taylor and the Raider offense? Southridge will be content methodically marching down the field, so forcing a turnover or two could be crucial for Gibson Southern.
Offensively, the Titans need to find sustainable success on the ground and through the air. If the Raiders gameplan to pressure Allen and stuff the Titan run game, will the offensive line rise to the occasion?