By John Stepp For The Times Tribune
All of Laurel County will fill the stands of the North Laurel Jaguars’ stadium this Friday night when the South Laurel Cardinals travel to take on the Jaguars in the annual cross-town showdown.
While the game carries a great deal of meaning to the fans of Laurel County, the players and coaches know it is just another game on the schedule, and one that both teams want to win.
“We want to win every game we play. We know this is a big game, but every game is a big game for us,” South Laurel Coach Matt Rhymer said. “We’re approaching this game like any other game. We’re practicing hard and we’ll be ready on Friday.”
The teams have played to completely opposite records this season. South Laurel has compiled a record of 2-6, while North Laurel comes into the game at an impressive 6-2. While prognosticators will likely go with the Jaguars in the game, Coach Chris Larkey knows his squad cannot overlook the Cardinals.
“We don’t overlook anyone. We are usually the underdog, and that is how we look at each game,” Larkey said. “We’re never the biggest or the fastest team on the field, so we can’t take any game for granted. In a game like this, a rivalry game, you can go by records or how good one team or the other is. It’s always a tough game against them, and that’s what we’re expecting.”
For each coach, this game is not so much about the rival as it is about finishing the season on a high note. For the Cardinals, they want to prove that their program is improving, and a win over the Jaguars would do just that.
“Right now, for us, every win is a big win. A win this week would be good for us, and I’ve been telling our boys that we need to get a couple more wins before the season ends,” Rhymer said. “We’re focused. We’ve not changed philosophies this week because of who we’re playing. These boys know that we have to get better at the things that we do and keep working hard.”
For Larkey’s group, a win means continuing to improve before heading into the playoffs.
“We try to win every game that we play, but we want to make sure that we’re getting better each game, too. We want to finish the season strong before the playoffs,” Larkey said. “It’s really about getting better. We want to keep getting better and get that first playoff win. I told our boys that we need to keep winning because pretty soon, when you lose you go home. That time’s almost here.”
There are no secrets when it comes to the cross-town rivals. Being just a few miles apart and playing similar opponents throughout the year, each coach has more than enough information on their opponent to get ready for Friday’s game.
“I have a lot of respect for what North Laurel does. They’re a very balanced team and a very physical team,” Rhymer said. “They’re a great team and Coach Larkey does a great job. I think they’re beatable. Every team is beatable on a given night, and that’s what we’re going to try to go out there and do.”
For North Laurel, they will focus on the Cardinals’ run game, which has improved significantly from a year ago.
“We’ve watched every film on them this year, even going back to their scrimmages. They definitely run the ball a lot more than they have in the past – that’s a no brainer,” Larkey said. “We’ll focus on stopping their run game. They’re a good team. We have to stay focused and do the things that we do well.”
Since Larkey has been at North Laurel, he has only lost to the Cardinals one time. This year, Larkey looks to build up on that success, but knows this is never an easy game.
“This is a game that we have to go into and play some of our best football. We know South Laurel is going to play their best game of the year against us. We have to do the same,” Larkey said. “We know there are going to be mistakes in the game, and we’re not going to be perfect, but we have to play solid football and stay focused for four quarters.”