After spending last Friday night trying to slow down the ground game of the Carrollton Trojans, the Richmond Spartans return home this week having to put the clamps on the air attack of the Higginsville Huskers. The Spartans, now 2-2 overall and 1-1 in the MRVC East, will be trying shake off last week’s 21-6 road loss.
The Huskers enter Friday night’s 7 p.m. kickoff at Tom Adams Field with their first 4-0 start in 33 years under fourth-year head coach Steve Cook. Higginsville has put an average of 44.5 points a game on the board against their four non-conference foes thanks to the arm of senior quarterback Lance Kays. Kays, who is also a second-team All-State kicker, has thrown for over 1,200 yards this season and is coming off a 314-yard, 4-touchdown night last week against Trenton in a 35-7 final.
“That’s the basis of our game,” Cook said. “I know Coach Bowers and everybody else knows it, but we’ve got a quarterback who’s been able to throw both short and long. We’ve been able to expand the receiving corps. We’ve got five boys who can catch it so that’s what we’re doing.”
Kays has a number of talented targets in which to choose from when he drops back. The combination of brothers Tyrell and DeShaun Thirkield have 22 receptions apiece and have 22 touchdowns between them, while second-team all-conference receiver Cameron Zuehlsdorf has caught 19 passes and scored five touchdowns.
“They have three favorite receivers, but they throw to everybody,” Richmond Coach Rob Bowers said. “There is not one guy we can double cover and say, ‘if we take him out of the game, we’re good to go.’ We have to do a great job of being in position, lining up correctly, and when the ball is snapped we’ve got to do our job and play great team defense.”
Bowers adds that it is key for his team to be sure tacklers.
“We’re not going to be able to keep them from completing passes, but we have to keep them from hitting the big plays,” he said. “We need to force them to take a lot of plays to move the ball and cause them to make mistakes. We also need to make a tackle when they catch the ball.”
Another key to slowing down the Husker attack is applying pressure to the quarterback.
“You cannot cover the receivers forever without someone breaking open and having a good quarterback get the ball to them,” he said. “So you have to get after the passer, and make him throw before he’s ready or the receivers are ready and get them out of their rhythm.”
Cook adds he is proud of the way his offensive line has played this season after losing a bulk of those from last season’s 4-6 team.
“We graduated a lot of guys last year, but these young men we’ve got playing for us now are seasoning themselves quickly and their confidence is sky high,” he said.
Another weapon to use against the Husker air game will be Richmond’s rushing attack.
The Spartans were held to a season-low 107 yards last week after rushing for an average of over 240 yards the previous two games. Bowers said it is important for his rushing attack to get back on track to keep the ball out of the hands of the Huskers.
“We have been hit and miss this year,” Bowers explained. “A couple of weeks we’ve played well, and a couple of weeks we’ve just kind of been our own worst enemy. We need to find some consistency this week and win the battle along the line of scrimmage. If we do that, offensively, we’ll be OK.”
Cook knows his team will have to be wary of the Richmond attack.
“From what I’ve seen on film, they look to be a very physical group and big up front,” he said. “We have respect for their speed, especially in the backfield. They appear to be pretty athletic, so we will have to tackle well and fly around.”
Higginsville surrendered just 8 first downs to Trenton last week, with five of those coming on the Bulldogs’ opening drive that covered 88 yards.