Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

SPORTS >>Academy glad for chance to avenge last season

Leader sportswriter

History repeats itself for the Harding Academy Wildcats this week when they return to Springdale to face Shiloh Christian on Friday.

The biggest difference between this year’s meeting between the two teams is the fact that it happens in the second round as opposed to the fourth round like last year in the semifinals.

The Saints went on to claim the 3A state title last season with a perfect 14-0 record after beating the Wildcats in the semifinals 40-7. For Harding Academy coach Tommy Shoemaker, the only déjà vu involved is the memory of a long bus ride.
“It feels like it in the sense that we’re always having to go up there,” Shoemaker said. “Every year is different, every team is different. That’s how we try to approach it. Hopefully we have a plan in place that will give us some opportunities, and we can execute that plan.”

The Saints are not the consummate powerhouse they were last year, but still sport an impressive 9-1 record after claiming the 3A-1 Conference title for a second straight year. Their only blemish came in a week-three, non-conference loss to 5A dynasty Greenwood.

The loss of over 20 seniors at the end of last season put the Saints in a position of what would be total rebuilding for most programs.

Senior lineman Nick O’Quinn stands as the only returning starter from last year’s championship team, but quarterback Blake Roberts and crew have picked up where last year’s team left off, dominating their conference to earn the No. 1 seed out of their conference to earn a bye during last week’s first round.

Most coaches would view the task of taking on the Saints two years in a row as bad luck, but Shoemaker says the wound was self-inflicted with the Wildcats’ conference loss to Marshall earlier this season.

“We got ourselves in this position when we didn’t take care of business,” Shoemaker said. “We knew we would have to play a tough team in the second round, and if you’re going to win it all, you would probably have to face these guys at some point anyway, even though it is a little earlier than what we might have expected.”

Shoemaker believes that the only way to beat the Saints is to play smarter, and faster if possible.

“I don’t know that you can completely shut down an offense that dynamic,” Shoemaker said. “We can try to contain them on big plays, we just have to play with a lot of speed and limit our mistakes.”