First-year coach Sean Coultis is about to experience his first New Albany-Jeffersonville game, and he’s attempted to keep the hype and verbal exchanges as low-key as possible. He would have better luck altering the course of the Ohio River.
In Southern Indiana, in any sport, this is The Rivalry. And this year, it’s about as even as it can get.
Both teams are 3-3 overall, 2-2 in the Hoosier Hills Conference. Both have worked through coaching changes. Both rely on explosive playmakers. The only difference is the approach as Jeffersonville prepares to invade Buerk Field on Friday night.
Game preview: Jeffersonville at New Albany
Coultis is taking the “just another game” tactic, and that has served him well as he goes through the rebuilding process at New Albany. His Bulldogs, who had few returning veterans and none who are playing the same position as last season, have already tripled their win total from a year ago.
“As young as we are, from a one-win team, being 3-3 is pretty good,” Coultis said. “I try to focus on the process. Looking back to the beginning of June and the summer, we’re light years ahead of where we were. I know day by day we’re getting better.”
New Albany and Jeffersonville already met during the summer, and perhaps that scrimmage was not a good idea. It didn’t end well when tempers flared, and that will only add to the intensity level. This one will count.
“I try to respect our opponent, and I know Jeff is a big rivalry game,” Coultis said. “As much as you want to win a rivalry, you’re always trying to go 1-0, no matter who you’re playing. It has significant value to our fans, but we’re not going to deviate from what we do.
“Of course it has greater significance to the fans and players, but we have to stay focused and keep our emotions in check to really execute.”
Both offenses will take center stage. Now that the St. Louis Rams have proven artificial turf can catch fire (which happened during last week’s pregame pyrotechnics), New Albany’s new carpet field might need smoke detectors for all the burning speed that will be on display.
Both coaches are worried about the big-play capability on the opposite side.
For the Red Devils, that starts with junior quarterback Cam Northern, who has already thrown for 1,175 yards and 9 touchdowns this season. His top targets include swift receivers Isaiah Blanton (21 catches and 7 TDs) and Brandon Coleman (25 catches with 2 TDs).
Jordan Barnett adds balance in the running game, but it’s Northern (who is already making unofficial recruiting visits to Division I programs in the Midwest) who makes the Devils dangerous.
“He’s taking care of business,” Jeffersonville interim coach Alfonzo Browning said. “As you get older and play the game, you grow. He’s grown every year. We have playmakers, and we have to get the ball in their hands. That’s what the game is about. When the opportunity presents itself, let them show what they can do.”
New Albany is coming off its most impressive win so far. The Bulldogs scorched Madison 45-10 last week as junior quarterback Justin Ricketts threw three touchdown passes and ran for another. Rondale Moore is a breakaway threat in the kicking game and as a running/receiving wingback.
“They’re grown a lot,” Browning said. “They understand the way he wants them to play. They have some playmakers, so it will be a challenge. That’s what it boils down to. Both teams are about even, with good athletes on both sides of the ball, so it will be which team can make the most plays.”
Coultis, who came to New Albany with a defensive reputation, wants to limit Jeffersonville’s quick-strike attack and make the Devils play impatiently.
“It’s not always the scheme that wins,” Coultis said. “When you get the ball in the hands of elite players, it can make an offense look good.
“We have to take away the big play and make Jeff drive the ball, make them truly earn it rather than having a blown assignment or a bunch of missed tackles. We have to keep the receivers in front of us. Obviously turnovers are the most important stat in football, but we have to stop the big play and create them on offense.”
Penalties and indefensible plays (bad snaps that lead to safeties, or turnovers) have been Jeffersonville’s problem. The Devils are averaging over 70 yards per game in flags. Their defense is also on the field a lot (over 25 minutes per game) when the offense scores in a hurry.
The outcome could hinge on New Albany’s ability to match Jeffersonville’s strength and power.
“I always tell people, to win football games, you need three things,” Coultis said, “You need to execute your assignment, play fast, and be physical. I know for sure Jeff will fly around and hit you. They have elite speed and they’re very physical.”
Justin Sokeland can be contacted at [email protected]
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