By JUSTIN RAINS
When the Elkhart and Westwood football teams take the field Friday, they’ll do so with differing motivations.
For Elkhart, there’s still a chance at postseason play, despite the team’s 1-7 record. Wins in their final two games (Westwood, Trinity) by the Elks will most likely put them in the playoffs.
“Most times, if you’re sitting in our situation (players’ attitudes) wouldn’t be as good as it could be,” EHS coach Sam Wells said. “But, for us, it’s a very positive atmosphere. The kids are excited to not only be playing their rival but to legitimately have a shot at the playoffs.”
For Westwood, it’s about finishing an adversity-filled season strong, and maybe playing spoiler along the way.
“We can win two games in a row, which hadn’t been done here in a long time, against some renewed rivals,” WHS coach Roger Mays said. “These are big games we’ve got coming up, and we want to build on the future.”
Kick-off is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Jerry Ives Memorial Stadium (Sheridan St., Elkhart, Texas 75839).
The game features two of East Texas’ most exciting players: Elkhart’s Jeffrey Wilson and Westwood’s Keke Hicks, both of whom, ironically, wear No. 4.
The matchup of that duo will more likely than not be the highlight of the night, and both coaches know the key to stopping the other team is to shut down their respective No. 4.
Wilson has run for 1,914 yards and 20 touchdowns this season, while Hicks is responsible for more than 1,700 all-purpose yards, mainly on the ground (997 yards, 10 TDs) and through the air (653 yards, 6 TDs).
Wells said he knows that Hicks makes the Westwood offense go, but isn’t all that Westwood has to offer.
“I think we’ve got to definitely keep them in front of us,” he said. “They’ve got some big play threats. Of course, we have to do a great job of keeping Keke in front and keeping him contained. He’s a great player.
“We’ve got to tackle well,” he continued. “They’ve got some big backs and they’re tough to tackle some times.”
Mays said that patience is the key when it comes to stopping Wilson, who averages 27.5 carries per game.
Friday’s Elkhart game against Teague was a prime example. Wilson was held in check for much of the first half, but exploded for more than 200 yards in the second, when the defense wore down and he was able to break-off some big runs.
“They continually feed him the ball and you may shut him down nine times out of ten, but if you keep feeding it to him he’s shown that he has the ability to break one,” Mays said. “They plug away at it and they stay within their gameplan, and I think they have confidence in that.”
The game is the first time that Westwood and Elkhart have met since 2005, when the Panthers beat the Elks, 27-22.
It’s also the two schools first major meeting since a fight at a track meet last spring led to a sheriff’s department investigation and some students getting treated at Palestine Regional Medical Center.
Despite that, both Mays and Wells expect nothing to happen on the field come Friday night.
“Honestly, between coach Wells and myself, I’m not worried about what goes on on the field. We’ve got control of our kids,” Mays said. “We’ve talked about it but I don’t think it’s a huge issue. It’s a football game.”
Added Wells, “We just talk all the time about doing the right thing and having character and not doing anything to put our team in a bad situation. We’ve done a good job of that all year and I expect the same. Once the ball kicks off, it’s a football game.”
Sports editor Justin Rains can be reached via email at email@example.com