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Velma-Alma hosts Empire this Friday as the two teams face off in a battle that will decide second place in the district.
The Comets (6-2, 4-1) are riding a little more momentum than the Bulldogs (6-2, 4-1), who are coming off a 56-7 loss to Ringling last Friday. The Comets disposed of a Rush Springs team, which fought until the end, 30-20 in a late homecoming matchup. Neither team wants to take its talents on the road for a first round playoff matchup, which makes Friday’s game ever more crucial.
“That’s the biggest thing on the line,” Velma-Alma coach Greg Gothard said. “We’ve been in the district a long time, and I think this is one of their better football teams.”
The senior leadership is a big edge for Empire, Gothard said. Whereas the Bulldogs boast nine seniors on its roster, the Comets only have a few that contribute.
Velma-Alma does have Alan Beck, who proved to be devastating thorn in the side of Rush Springs. The senior wideout caught two touchdown passes from Ty Richardson, including the one that sealed the game. Stopping the passing game will be a focus for Empire coach Tony Roberts.
“They’ve gotten better at throwing the ball and that’s something, we haven’t seen anybody throw the ball quite as good as they do, except for maybe Ringling,” Roberts said. “If we play like we’re supposed to, it should be good matchups out there with our corners and their receivers.”
One of those seniors is Dillon Twigg, who is making a run at the state’s rushing title. Gothard said the full package that Twigg brings to the field of his speed, ballcarrier vision and ability to run inside presents a lot of problems.
“If you just look at trying to deal with the speed or the vision, it’s one thing,” Gothard said. “But he makes as many up the middle as he does around the edge.”
Twigg is focused on putting up another strong performance after he rushed for 138 yards against Ringling, but he thinks the other side of the ball will decide the game.
“It’s going to come down to who has the best defense,” Twigg said, “We’re going to do our best and see what we can do on offense. Hopefully, we will drive the ball on them and keep the ball as long as possible.”
Both Twigg and Gothard agree that Twigg will be seeing a lot of the ball, but the running back doesn’t want anyone to forget about senior fullback Stephen Price. He will take some of the burden off Twigg as he returns from injury to the team on Friday.
“That’s a huge, huge impact,” Twigg said. “I’m still a key player, but it takes a lot of the spotlight off me and puts it on three or four players. It helps our defense a lot to have our starting middle linebacker back. He keeps our defense glued together and keeps our heads up.”
The biggest hurdle for Empire will be making sure the quick defensive line for the Comets doesn’t shutdown Twigg and the gang, Roberts said.
“If they come in and stuff us... then we could have a little problem moving the football, because they do have a lot of speed on defense,” Roberts said. “They’re quick, get to where the ball is and play good technique.”
Last year, Velma-Alma took a 14-0 halftime lead and shut down the Empire offense in a 20-7 win.