Ground game key for Warriors, Mustangs

Westside’s Jared Garner (13) carries the ball behind teammate Tyler Ray during the Warriors’ victory at Brookland last week. The Warriors host Hoxie for their home opener on Friday night.

JONESBORO — Pass plays could be scarce Friday night at Warrior Field if Westside and Hoxie are able to play the way they prefer.

Both teams build their offense around the run, though the respective coaches admit the styles differ quite a bit.

“We like to come straight downhill at you, just inside the guards and maybe just inside the tackles, where they’ve got enough speed in the backfield where they can kind of stretch it out and get to the outside,” Westside coach Bobby Engle said. “We’ll look to go down the middle and I think they’ll look to stretch it.”

The teams churned out plenty of rushing yards last fall as they reached the state quarterfinals in their respective classifications. And with key returnees on each side, the Warriors (1-1) and Mustangs (2-0) hope to run deep into the postseason this fall.

Westside features bruising tailback Tyler Ray, who has 209 yards on the season after gaining 128 yards on 24 carries in a 28-21 victory over Brookland. Four different Warriors scored rushing touchdowns last week.

Engle is also counting on Jared Garner, Cameron Hedger, Darvin Fowler and Connor Crain to handle touches out of the backfield. Quarterback River Engle is another rushing threat with 86 yards in the first two games.

“You’ve got a bunch of different options available to keep guys fresh and keep the defense off a little bit on who’s going to get the ball,” Bobby Engle said. “You’ve got two or three guys back there and I’m not asking them to break 90 yards every time. I’m asking them to get four yards at a time, so the pressure isn’t for them to break the big play, it’s just for them to gain yards.”

After finishing with 137 yards rushing in a 20-0 loss at Greene County Tech, the Warriors had 274 in the victory over Brookland. Westside averaged more than five yards per carry last week.

“They’re going to be physical and you know what they’re going to do,” Hoxie coach Tom Sears said. “You just have to man up and stop it, and that’s easier said than done.”

Stopping Daylon and ShunDerrick Powell, the Mustangs’ backfield combination, is the Warriors’ challenge in their home opener Friday.

Quarterback Daylon Powell has 188 yards and six rushing touchdowns through two games, victories over Cave City and Mountain View. He is also 10-of-12 passing for 285 yards and four more touchdowns. ShunDerrick Powell, who plays running back, has 225 yards and four touchdowns on the season.

The Powell brothers have verbally committed to North Alabama of the Football Championship Subdivision. Sears said Daylon was recruited by Old Dominion and Texas-El Paso, while ShunDerrick was recruited by Hawaii, Buffalo and Navy.

“They both had multiple FBS offers and it just worked out where they could go together, so they decided that’s what they want to do,” Sears said. “They’ve never been all into that, what size of school. It’s never been an issue. They just want to go where they can play.”

The neighboring schools have a football series that dates to 1969. Westside prevailed 44-21 when they met two years ago and Hoxie rolled to a 49-12 victory last season.

“We probably played our worst game of the year against them and it was one of those situations where if it was going to go wrong, it went wrong for us,” Engle said. “We have to not let that happen again Friday night.”