“What are you telling me?” Trigg County head coach Shannon Burcham jokingly asked when presented with those numbers.
The answer is obvious: The Wildcats appear to be the underdog against Fort Campbell. Burcham doesn’t think that way.
“It looks that way on paper and according to the opinions of everyone except the people that matter,” Burcham said. “We’re glad to have the opportunity to do it again. We played them tough last year.”
Last season, Trigg lost 28-9 at Fort Campbell before the Falcons went on to win the 2A state championship.
“We played them tough for three quarters, then they big-played us late,” Burcham said. “It’s been a good rivalry. [Fort Campbell coach Shawn Berner] has done a good job of putting that program back on its feet.”
“Feet” being the operative word. The Falcons, with 75 percent of their offensive production coming on the ground, line up in an offensive formation similar to Trigg’s spread, but the similarities end there. Fort Campbell relies heavily on option plays run through quarterback Antonio Anderson and running back Troy Turner. Stopping the big plays that led to Trigg’s lost against the Falcons last season will be key, and it’s something Burcham shouldn’t need to spend much time preaching to his players.
“They already know that,” Burcham said. “We were down 7-3 with about a minute to go in the third quarter last year, then they came out in a formation they hadn’t run all game and we didn’t adjust very well. It starts with stopping [Anderson] with an emphasis on stopping the run game, which I imagine will be their focus on us.”
Trigg has relied offensively on the run all season, led by senior Dillon Cionko, who is near 1,000 yards for the season. Akeem Wilson, Josh Adams and quarterback Andrew Stewart have each been solid on the ground through the last several weeks.
Facing a stout defense, Burcham said Trigg’s game plan will be similar to what it’s been all season – start with the run.
“We’ll do what we do and see what scheme they run,” Burcham said. “That’s what has gotten us where we are.”
Without giving anything away, Burcham said he and his coaching staff have seen some things from Fort Campbell on film that they feel they may be able to exploit. How effective it will be against a team as solid as the Falcons remains to be seen.
“If they’re not the best team in the state overall, they’re definitely one of them,” Burcham said. “They’re one of the top five programs in the state for sure.”
Some of those areas may come from offensive wrinkles the coaching staff has installed in recent weeks but hasn’t needed to use yet. Most importantly, Trigg needs to hold on to the ball as long as possible, Burcham said.
“There are things we can do that will help us be successful,” Burcham said. “If we can hang on to the ball and move the chains, that will be our best defense. It could potentially be the biggest difference between this year and last year.”
Owensboro Catholic, the team Trigg defeated Friday to advance to the second round, is the only common opponent for the ‘Cats and Falcons. Fort Campbell defeated the Aces 53-0 on Oct. 23.
“[Fort Campbell] big-played them, too,” Burcham said. “It wasn’t one of those things where they sustained drives and worked down the field. They did it in pretty quick order and punted maybe once. If we’re going to be successful, we can’t allow that to happen. We need to make them work all the way down the field.”
Burcham and his coaching staff have praised the players throughout the season for being on the same page mentally and applying what they are taught in practice. If the ‘Cats continue that trend Friday, they’ll put themselves in the best position possible for an upset, Burcham said.
“[Coach Colby Lewis] preached to them that it’s not who you play, it’s how you play that matters,” Burcham said. “If we can have that mentality and not get caught up in what Fort Campbell has done, we can be successful, and it will also be because the kids did what they’re capable of doing.”
Fans traveling to the game: Don’t forget your driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance, all of which you’ll need to receive a pass to get on base at Fort Campbell’s Gate 4.
Burcham said fans should be reminded that Trigg will receive half the gate receipts from Friday’s game.
“It’s one of the biggest games we’ve been involved in during the playoffsin the last 10 years in terms of the level of competition we’re facing,” Burcham said. “We hope the fans will come out and support us, and hopefully we’ll have smiles on our faces when it’s done.”