COLUMN: It wasn’t long after Lafayette’s sixth-straight win over crosstown rival Oxford on Friday night that LHS coach Anthony Hart brought up the next big challenge for his team, Evangel Christian.
The No. 1 Commodores will be leaving the state for Shreveport, La., this Saturday to play in the “Battle on the Border,” a game that is all about bragging rights and school pride. Similar games have been played by the South Panola Tigers, as well as a few other programs from the state, in recent years in order to find out which state really has the best talent.
Hart’s message to his team was simple — we’re playing for the state of Mississippi. In a game that won’t determine playoff seeding, pride and respect are enough of a reason to get excited about the upcoming matchup.
It’s the best versus the best on a national stage and in an environment that is usually only reserved for college teams.
Lafayette is getting this opportunity to showcase its skills in large part because of the way the Commodores have handled their business here at home. LHS may be the top-ranked team in the state now (thanks in part to owning the state’s longest winning streak at 19), but the defending Class 4A state champions know that won’t mean much if they don’t stay focused.
Standout quarterback Jeremy Liggins, who has offers from a bevy of SEC schools, said there is talk about being considered the best team in the state in the locker room, but it can’t take away from their focus.
“We kind of feel it, but we can’t let that get to our head. Just because we’re No. 1, we can still get beat by the last team in our conference. We got to come out and take every game, every team the same,” Liggins said. “That’s going to be a good matchup. That’s really going to know where our talent level is.”
Hart had similar things to say when asked about being on top of all the rankings heading into arguably the biggest game in the school’s history.
“They got us over there with teams from Louisiana, teams from Texas, Mississippi and I just want to go over there and have a good showing. It’s going to be a hard team to beat,” Hart said about playing Evangel, which has won 15 state championships in Louisiana and opened its season against a team from Tulsa, Okla., on national TV.
“(Being ranked No. 1) is a big deal, but you try not to let it be. We’re the same old guys, the same old coaches, the same old families. We’re just who we are. It’s hard for us to imagine we’re the best team in the state but right now we are and we’ll just have to deal with it.
“I don’t worry about it. I just enjoy my job and enjoy being around these kids and whatever happens happens. We just do the best we can.”
Demarkous Dennis, the Commodores’ top running threat, said getting caught up in the winning streak is not the right approach.
“We’ve got the long winning streak, but we don’t think about that. We just keep working like we’re 1-10 or something. We don’t let that faze or let it give us a big head,” Dennis said. “We can go out Saturday and lose the game. We got to keep focus and keep playing strong. “I’m real excited (about the game). We get to go out of state for a trip. We’re all representing the state. We’re going down there and act right, respectful, and do what we got to do.”
If the Commodores do what they’ve done the past three years, then Evangel will have their hands full, win or lose.
LHS has proven its one of the best programs in the state and if they beat Evangel on Saturday, then they will gain even more national recognition. How the Commodores play each week is a source of pride for the community.
Football binds us all together like no other sport, mainly because of sheer numbers that can come watch a game.
But we all must remember that as exciting as it is to be a part of a game like this and to see the team ranked as high as it is currently, the Commodores have to stay focused. It’s focus that has been the reason for their success as much as anything over the last few years and keeping a low profile, despite additional exposure, is the main reason they have a great chance to win their 20th game in a row. (September 5, 2011, Page 3B)