Fort Dale, Pike Lib fight for final playoff spot

Published 10:01 am Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Pike Liberal Arts Patriots have been a constant thorn in Fort Dale Academy’s side for years, and this year is no different as the Eagles aim for a playoff bid in the final region game of the season.

The only difference is that the stakes are higher than ever, as only one of the two teams will advance to the postseason in the wake of Friday night’s game.

“They’re a rivalry game every year in every sport, and they’ve gotten some players from other places in the past year and they’re a lot better, so we’ll have to play well,” said Fort Dale Academy head coach James “Speed” Sampley.

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“One of us is going and one of us ain’t.”

There will be many obstacles facing the Eagles on their trip to the playoffs, but the road trip isn’t one of them, according to Sampley.

“I don’t think home and away makes a lot of difference.  I understand it in a college setting when the crowd is huge and the place is loud, but it’s not a big difference in high school, I don’t think.”

What will be the difference on Friday night for the Eagles is nothing new.

“We’ll have to tackle well and block well.  That’s football, and that’s what makes it work.  We can not afford to turn the ball over,” Sampley added.

The Eagles might have to do so with the absence of a few notable players, including senior running back Ryan Burkett, who suffered a concussion in last Friday’s region game with Morgan Academy.

Andrew Salter, Maurlan Dickerson and Caleb Whigham have also suffered injuries to various degrees, and their return to the field Friday night is questionable.

The Eagles’ game plan will hinge largely on whether the Patriots’ starting quarterback returns, as the team has since adapted their offense in his absence.

The Patriots currently favor the I-formation, but that could change to a more pass-oriented game plan featuring the wing-T and the spread if the starter returns.

Fortunately, adaptability has been the name of the game for Fort Dale in the 2014 regular season, and it’s a skill that could prove useful in the playoffs.

But they’ll have to make it there first.

“The big thing is that there isn’t a playoff picture if we don’t win this week,” Sampley said.

The regional showdown between the Eagles and the Patriots is set for 7 p.m. at Pike Liberal Arts.