The Jacksonville-Palestine series really needs no bells and whistles to accentuate itself in the eyes of rabid Indian and Wildcat loyalists, but when the two geographical rivals tee it up at 7 p.m. tonight at Wildcat Stadium, the added dimension of playing on live television should hang heavy in the early fall air.
KTXA-21, Dallas-Fort Worth has selected the game as a part of its Thursday night high school football coverage. Tonight will mark the 77th meeting between the two schools that first played in 1913 — the Wildcats lead the series 37-36-3, after wining 37-20 at Tomato Bowl last season.
Jacksonville and Palestine opened their respective seasons last week with different results as the Tribe fell, 42-28, to No.1-ranked Carthage (Class 3A), while the Wildcats rallied by scoring 18 points in the final period to knock off Waco LaVega, 26-12, in Waco.
As he shared a little bit of coaching wisdom earlier this week, Indians defensive coordinator Mike Waldie said that he only hopes his team will be able to follow the formula that he alluded to.
“There's an old coaching cliché that a team makes it most improvement between the first game and the second game,” Waldie said. “We're having to try to do that after having a holiday (Labor Day) on Monday and a short week with the game (tonight); but I still hope that we can make that improvement.”
From the defensive perspective, Waldie said stopping the Wildcats boils down to one thing — putting the breaks on Palestine running back Ben Luckett (6-0, 195).
Luckett carried 24 times for 133 yards and scored two touchdowns in the 'Cats' win a week ago.
If he goes off like that tonight, Tribe fans could be exiting Wildcats Stadium with a frown on their faces says Waldie.
“I feel their best player is at running back (Luckett),” Waldie said. “If we can't contain him nothing else will matter. If we can contain him we will have a chance to win.
“He's a special player and is probably the best running back that we will see all year.”
Waldie said that he expects to see Luckett running out of a one-back set, flanked by double and triple (receivers) on the edge.
As good as Luckett is, he certainly is not the only stud on the Wildcat team.
“They (Palestine) have a D-I commit (Brian Thlang, Louisiana-Monroe) at left tackle and three returning starters on the O-line, so our young guys are going to be challenged all night.”
Waldie said that he was pleased with the defensive effort a week ago, but that his team has to eliminate the big play to be able to break into the win column.
By contrast, Palestine's defenders, led by TCU commit Jarrell Owens at outside linebacker, had 14 tackles for loss and forced five fumbles in the win over LaVega.
Jacksonville's offense racked up right at 500 total yards last week with quarterback Carter McCown throwing for 310 yards a touchdown.
McCown completed at least one pass to five different receivers, which could cause problems for the Wildcats secondary.
Datavian Thacker and Stacey Cummings proved steady at running back last week, with Claude Franklin and Cash Cleaver being McCown's primary targets.
“Defensively, Palestine is going to be fast and physical,” Indian offensive coordinator, San Brandt, said. “They fly to the ball well. Our young kids are improving each day and hopefully we have improved to the point of where we can beat Palestine. I know that we are in a better spot as a team than we were this time last week.”
As for the potential distraction of live television, Brandt said that he didn't believe that that would be a factor for his young men.
“Will we possibly be more nervous? Yes, maybe. But the system we run here is based on everyone doing their job and teamwork, so I don't really think we are going to have to worry about anyone attempting to showcase their individual talents (for television).”