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Five Keys to Friday's Game 9/7/21


Alma (0-1) vs. Poteau (1-1)

When: 7 p.m. 

Where: Citizens Bank at Airedale Field

Coaches: Alma, Rusty Bush (2nd season); Poteau, Greg Werner (3rd season)

Internet: Airwaves Media


1. Match Poteau’s Strength

The Pirates’ 47-10 victory in 2020 was fueled by some turnovers and big plays. But the biggest thing the Bucs have going for them is physicality.


Poteau (1-1) dropped a 27-21 decision to Shiloh Christian last week. But Alma coach Rusty Bush expects Poteau to be one of the more physical teams the Airedales will see this season.


“We must try to match their physicality in some way,” Bush said. “They are an extremely physical football team. They got after Shiloh. Those kids are tough, hard-nosed kids.”


Bush compares Poteau with some of the talented North Little Rock teams he saw while coaching at Northside. 


“I don’t know that I’ve seen a team that matches their physicality, except when I coached at Northside against Jamie Mitchell’s North Little Rock teams, whose teams were also wing-t-based. We’re going to have to figure out a way to match their physicality, or they’re going to hurt us.”


2. Stopping The Wing-T

Poteau’s wing-t offense is hard to prepare for in that hardly anyone else runs that type of offense.


“It’s something we see one time a year. We get a similar offense with Clarksville, but it’s different, too,” Bush said. “We worked on it a little bit in the summer and the off-season, too, just to have some idea of what we may need to do. It’s hard to defend; it’s hard to find the ball, and it’s hard to match the physicality of what they do.”


The Pirates’ Todd Mattox burned Shiloh Christian for 249 yards rushing and two touchdowns in last week’s game. He’s averaging 178 yards and two scores per game this season.


In all, Poteau is averaging 342 yards on the ground per game. 


“They get it out on the perimeter extremely fast. People think it’s three yards and a cloud of dust with the wing-t, but he (Poteau coach Greg Werner) does everything extremely fast,” Bush said. “They break the huddle really quickly and shift a little bit; it’s a lot of eye candy. But they can hit that crease and punish you for 10 or 15 yards really quickly. Similar to the Van Buren game, we can’t give up explosive plays out of the wing-t, either.”


3. Finding A Running Game 

The Airedales lack a go-to running back, which is something Bush and his staff knew might present problems. Instead, three different backs — Reagan Birchfield, Brady Noyes, and Devin Poole — combined for 35 yards rushing on 13 carries. 


Quarterback Joe Trusty led the team with 41 yards rushing on nine carries, and Conner Stacy added 10 yards on three attempts out of the wildcat. 


The 71 yards netted the Airedales just 2.7 yards per rush, though Birchfield did score two rushing touchdowns in last week’s loss. 


“We’ve got to establish the run, but the offensive line has to play a little bit better this week, too,” Bush said. “I don’t think we played the way we’re capable of last week.”


4. Avoiding Big Plays 

Bush preached last week about stopping Van Buren’s Chi Henry. But, on the second play, Henry’s athleticism saw him pluck a ball from the sky, between multiple defenders, and sprint 70 yards for a touchdown. 


Two possessions later, Henry turned a short slant over the middle into a 97-yard touchdown reception. Van Buren finished with 422 yards, but nearly half (240) came on passing plays of 70, 97, 45, and 28 yards.


“Those four or five things we didn’t execute well were the keys to the football game,” Bush said. “Give credit to Van Buren; they got it done. We’ve got to execute and make plays, and we can’t just do it in the second half.”


Alma finished with 329 yards of offense on 59 plays but was just 2-of-10 on third down. 


5. Learning To Win 

The Airedales’ 31-20 setback was an improvement from the team’s 35-0 loss to the Pointers in 2020. 


But, despite a late-season push in 2018 and another in 2019, Alma hasn’t had a winning record since going 7-5 in 2017. 


“Right now we don’t know how to win,” Bush said. “I think that’s the bottom line. We’ve got to figure out a way to get over the hump.”