PERRY -- Westfield will open its defense of last year’s GISA Class AAA championship Friday against a familiar foe when Southland visit Perry in a key region 1-AAA contest to begin the season.
This will be the third meeting between the two programs in Westfield’s past nine games after the two faced one another twice a year ago. Westfield won 48-21 during the regular season but got all it could handle in the state semifinals when the Hornets escaped by a 27-24 margin.
“When we played them the first time, we got out to a big lead,” Westfield head coach Ronnie Jones said. “During that time they were in the shotgun and doing a little misdirection, but they were throwing the ball quite a good bit. Before the (semifinal) game, they were lining up in the I and just running right at people with that big offensive line they had.”
Southland running back Dustin Shattles had a big night against Wesfield in that playoff game, and he returns for his senior season following back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns.
“What scares us the most is (Shattles) is back again, and they’ve got a new fullback down there who is a transfer and a good blocker,” Jones said. “(Shattles) is a big guy who runs hard, and he runs downhill. We can’t allow him to get 4 and 5 yards a lick.”
Offensively for Westfield, the departure of its two starting wing backs from the state championship squad could see it rely heavily on fullback Josh Jenkins. Jenkins scored twice in last year’s title game and is capable of picking up the tough yardage.
“I think our wing backs are going to be better blockers this year, but I don’t think we’re going to have those 50 and 60-yard runs that we had last year,” Jones said. “This game will answer a lot of questions for us.”
Weather could also prove to be a factor with the relatively smaller roster sizes in GISA. The forecast is calling for a triple-digit high in the afternoon with humidity higher than 70 percent by kickoff.
“As coaches we’ve got to do a good job of substituting and getting the guys some breaks,” Jones said. “There’s nothing worse than when you’re going along pretty, good and then a couple of guys go out with cramps or whatever. Who’s in the better shape may be a big part of the game.”
The game will mark the first for Southland head coach Rod Murray at the helm of the Raiders. He took over for Tim Goodin, who resigned at the end of last season. Murray had spent the previous 10 years as the defensive coordinator at Deerfield-Windsor.