There’s a little different scenario heading into Friday’s Kerens-Rice showdown. That’s right, showdown.
The Bulldogs come in off a surprising district win over Cayuga. The Bobcats come in off of a rare district loss to defending state champion Mart. Both teams are 1-1 in 8-1A Division I.
Rice and coach David Currey are 3-4, three wins better than last year. Kerens is 3-4, the first time Russell Anderson’s Bobcats have had a losing record this late in the season.
Is this the most confident Rice team the Bobcats have faced in Anderson’s eight seasons, especially coming off of last week’s 21-14 victory over Rice in which the Bulldogs allowed 185 yards?
“I’d have to say yes,” Anderson said. “Coach Currey has them playing very, very hard.”
For his part, Currey, in his fifth season at Rice, agrees with his rival Golden Circle coach’s assessment.
“This is the most confident group we’ve had coming in (to a Kerens game),” Currey said. “They’re playing really well. We’re a pretty good football team.”
Keep in mind Rice scored on Kerens for the first time during the Currey era last season, and still lost to the Bobcats 30-9.
This appears to be a different Rice team. The Bulldogs have been stingy on defense, allowing 204 yards per game. They’ve been able to run the ball on offense, using the power running of Ragan Henderson to control the clock. Rice is winning the time of possession almost every Friday —the Bulldogs even had the ball five minutes more than Mart in a 28-6 loss.
“Our goals is to hold it for eight minutes four times,” Currey said. “That’s 32 out of 48 minutes. We’re hoping to win a game 28-27.”
Anderson is hoping his young Bobcats don’t turn the ball over. Kerens has had four turnovers in three losses this season to Edgewood, Malakoff and Mart.
The Bobcats are young. Quarterback Nate Betts is a freshman, and he was bitten by turnovers in the Mart loss. Tailback Rayvon Faulk is a sophomore. The Bobcats count on sophomores at receiver too.
The thing is — there are just three games left on the schedule. Anderson told his team this week that being young doesn’t allow for mistakes anymore.
“The speed of the game is much different from junior varsity and middle school football,” Anderson said. “We have to take care of the ball.”
Rice is of course aware of Kerens’ propensity to turn it over in its losses, so the Bulldogs will be going for the takeaways. Safety Shaquille Fields has been in the middle of several of Rice’s big plays on defense.
“We just have to tackle them well,” Currey said. “We need to force some turnovers. We haven’t intercepted a lot of balls. But we’ve caused some fumbles. When we wrap up we need to try to get in there and get the football.”
This may be Rice’s best chance to beat Kerens. But for Currey, that only means the Bulldogs are just getting better. Kerens is still Kerens.
“They run well,” Currey said. “They’re young. They don’t have the experience they had in the past. I don’t take that away from them. They have good players.”
And in Kerens, this has been a different Rice week. Way different.
“We’re treating this like a playoff game,” Anderson said. “We’re treating it like we’re preparing for a playoff game over here.”
GC Game of the Week:
Kerens at Rice
7:30 p.m. Friday
At Bulldog Stadium
RECORDS: Class 1A Kerens is 3-4, 1-1 in District 8-1A DI. Class 1A Rice is 3-4, 1-1.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Kerens: QB Nate Betts, RB/LB Rayvon Faulk, OL/DL Josh Wooten, WR/LB Colton Ware. Rice: QB/DB Michael Bustamante, RB/LB Ragan Henderson, OG/LB Jody Bernal, RB/LB Luis Dominguez.
When Kerens has the ball: The Bobcats’ young offense averages 20.4 points per game which puts Kerens right in the middle of the pack in the Golden Circle. Faulk, a sophomore, is one of the young standouts for the Bobcats. He is averaging 8.2 yards per carry. Another sophomore, receiver Brett Anderson, has 18 receptions for 296 yards and four touchdowns. Rice’s defense has kept the Bulldogs in almost every game. The Bulldogs are allowing 14.7 points a game, only behind Mildred in the Golden Circle. Safety Shaquille Fields has been the anchor of the Rice defense.
When Rice has the ball: The Bulldogs are averaging 13.7 points per game, putting pressure on their defense to keep opponents out of the end zone. Rice is averaging 165 yards on ground, while only passing for 25 yards per game. Bustamante has 69 yards on the season. Kerens has played OK on defense, often facing tough situations because of turnovers. The Bobcats are allowing 266.7 yards per game, fourth best in the Golden Circle. Kerens is solid up front with interior linemen Wooten and D.J. Woods.
Difference makers: Henderson is a beast for the Bulldogs. He has 757 yards on 139 carries despite nursing several injuries this season. “He’s a big old back,” Kerens coach Russell Anderson said. “He’s hard to tackle. He’s a physical presence, you have to get him before he gets started.” Henderson is also one of the Bulldogs’ standouts on defense. Betts, a freshman, has drawn raves from Anderson, but he did suffer through a three-turnover game in the 35-0 loss to Mart. Betts has rushed for 298 yards and passed for 318 yards this season since taking over from sophomore Shelton Sayles as the starter.
Overall edge: Both Kerens coach Russell Anderson and Rice coach David Currey agree — this is the best Bulldogs team the Bobcats have faced in the five seasons the coaches have gone up against each other. The numbers say this is an even game. Kerens played what looks like a tougher schedule. Rice scored its first touchdown against Kerens last year. The Bulldogs make it closer Friday night. Kerens 21, Rice 18.