By John Stepp for The Times Tribune
A year ago the South Laurel Cardinals finished with one of the worst records in Class 5A. This year, under the direction of new coach Matt Rhymer, the Cardinals look to finish out the season strong with a 2-5 record heading into week eight.
Standing in their way this week will be the second-ranked team in Class 5A in the Pulaski County Maroons. The Maroons feature one of the best offenses in the state and are coming off a win over the ninth-ranked Madison Southern Eagles. It won’t be an easy task for the Cardinals, but it is one they are looking forward to competing in.
“That’s what we’re going to prepare for – to compete,” Rhymer said. “I told my guys after practice today that if we can win one or two more of our games and finish the season 3-7 or 4-6, that will be much better than last season and says a lot about our team.”
The Cardinals have faced a lot of adversity this season. Rhymer was not hired as coach until mid-January and did not have a full staff in place until July, which is the same time he was able to hire his defensive coordinator. Add in the injury bug and a tough schedule, and the Cardinals have done well to be sitting with two wins on the year.
“For these kids to go through what they’ve went through this year and to keep competing tells me a lot about the character of this football team. It was a good dialogue for us to have and they gave us some really positive feedback,” Rhymer said. “We’re going to keep working hard and preparing each week. We want to finish the season strong and try to get a couple more wins.”
If the Cardinals are going to pull the upset this week, they’ll have to find a way to stop the Maroons’ super sophomore quarterback in Riley Hall. Hall has passed for 1,686 yards on the season with 19 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Hall has also hurt defenses with his feet, compiling 561 rushing yards, with five rushing touchdowns. It’s a formula that is difficult for any defense to stop, and will be the focus of the Cardinals’ defense this Friday.
Perhaps the only way to stop the Pulaski County offense is to keep the ball out of their hands. If the South Laurel running game of Jon Jenkins and Austin Ricketts can keep the chains moving this Friday, the Cardinals will have a much better chance at the upset.
“They have a really nice offense. They’re explosive and have kids who can make plays all over the field,” Rhymer said. “It is going to be tough for anyone to stop. We’ll try to slow it down. If I had it my way, I’d like to keep the ball out of their hands, but we’ll have to get more productive on offense. We’ll have to play better than we’ve playing.”
Even with such a tough game ahead, Rhymer’s crew is focused on getting better each week. Rhymer said his team will continue to work on improving in the fundamentals of the game and let the rest take care of itself.
“We’re still learning. We’re still working on run blocking and running the football,” Rhymer said.