WEEK 6 PREVIEWS: Versailles set to make return from COVID in battle with California
The COVID-19 pandemic has not hit many teams harder than Versailles.
Due to concerns with the coronavirus, the Tigers have not been able to enjoy the privilege of playing a game beneath the Friday night lights since September 4 when the team hosted Warsaw. So, after nearly a month, Coach Kirk Hannah is undoubtedly excited just to see his team back in action.
“We are excited to be back to playing games. We hope that we have ‘weathered the storm’ of absences and cancellations and our kids are very much looking forward to now getting to play games instead of just practicing,” Hannah stated. “We have had a great week of practice and our team is back to full strength and are very excited to play again.”
Well, the Tigers (0-2) will finally be making their Tri-County Conference debut and Friday night’s opponent should be a good test for Hannah and his staff to see where their program is at after a considerable hiatus. The Tigers will host California (4-1, 2-1 TCC) who is off to an impressive start after finishing just 1-9 a season ago and kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
The Pintos are coming off a narrow 21-14 win at Boonville and the team has won two straight with its only loss coming at the hands of a Blair Oaks team that is also currently 4-1 and has won 39 straight games in the Tri-County. Versailles was scheduled to visit Blair Oaks last week before the cancellation and the Falcons made a trip to unbeaten Valle Catholic instead where a 35-28 defeat ended a 51-game regular season winning streak that dated back to 2014.
So, if that is the only time the Pintos have come up short so far, it is not a bad resume to have and Hannah is well aware of how far this California team has come. The Pintos are currently averaging 36 points per game, scoring 43 or more points in three of their five games, and the defense is giving up 19.6 points per outing, respectively.
“They are off to a great start. Coach (Derek) Scroggins has always done a great job of building programs wherever he has been and California is no different,” the coach noted. “They are big and physical and like to make the game physical. They have a tremendous amount of returning starters on both sides of the ball so they all have two years in this system now and are playing with confidence.”
California just escaped with a win last week, but a win is still a win. Holding on to a 21-14 lead late, Boonville recovered an onside kick with 1:33 left in the game and advanced to the Pinto 25-yard line with five seconds left before a final pass to the end zone was batted away.
Quarterback Calen Kruger has been a key factor in the team’s ability to move the chains all season and in the win against Boonville, he had 14 carries for 63 yards and two touchdowns while completing seven of his 10 pass attempts for 55 yards and another touchdown. Junior Trevor Myers hauled in that touchdown pass as he finished the night with three catches for 24 yards and junior Drake Schlup had three catches for 33 yards of his own. California rushed for 160 yards as a team.
“They spread the ball around to their different weapons and that makes them hard to defend. They are throwing the ball a little more than they have in the past,” Hannah pointed out.
After being able to play just two games, the Versailles defense was giving up 44 points per contest and senior Max Coleman was leading the unit at linebacker with 25 total tackles while senior defensive end Mason Hibdon recorded 16 tackles of his own including three tackles for a loss. The Pintos may have a few weapons at their disposal, but slowing down Kruger must be one of the top priorities with his dual threat abilities.
On the offensive end, Versailles is going to have to be sure to take care of the football after the California defense recorded four interceptions last week against the Pirates while allowing just 130 passing yards and 85 rushing yards for a total of 215 yards overall. Boonville had been averaging 30 points per game entering Friday night’s contest.
Versailles senior quarterback Adam Radcliff was 6-11 for 75 yards and a score after the first two weeks with another 76 rushing yards on the ground, averaging 3.3 yards per rush. Coleman and sophomore Tye Edgar were the lead backs with 68 rushing yards each and senior receiver Michael Bell was the top target with a trio of catches for 59 yards and a score.
While it has been quite some time since Versailles has got to play a game, the good news is that the Tigers have still been able to get practices in and now the time has come to see if there is any rust left to shake off.
Whatever the outcome, Versailles football is finally back.
California won a close battle last year on home turf, 33-30.
It could be anyone for Versailles after three weeks without a game. The Tigers are simply looking to find some kind of rhythm again and if anyone has been practicing well, it should soon manifest on Friday night. Time to see who is ready to step up for the Tigers.
California will be physical as Hannah noted and Kruger has been one of the biggest benefactors. The Pintos will look for the quarterback to find some space and make plays and the Tigers will simply have to contain him if they wish to see more punts and less touchdowns from the Pintos.