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By JOEL COLEMAN
There's plenty of excitement surrounding tonight's third round, Class 2A playoff matchup between East Webster and Calhoun City.
High school sports media and fans have been licking their chops for weeks, anticipating this matchup of two 13-0 teams.
Yet when the Wolverines and Wildcats hit the field for their 7 p.m. contest on Calhoun City's home turf, perhaps the most amped up individual of all will be the man calling the shots on East Webster's sideline.
"This is what you go to school for," said Wolverines head football coach Jimmy Carden. "I started college in 1976, so I've been working towards this for a long time. I'm an old man. I look forward to it."
While Carden is loaded with enthusiasm, East Webster's last playoff trek to Calhoun City didn't turn out so good.
In 2008, with both schools a part of Class A, the Wolverines lost on the road to the Wildcats in the second round of that year's postseason.
Several current members of East Webster's team were in uniform on that night two years ago.
One of those individuals, fullback Timakis Bell, was ready to make the trip back up Highway 9 immediately after the Wolverines put the finishing touches on their win over Kennedy last week.
"We are prepared and we are coming," said Bell. "As seniors, we've been waiting on this ourselves for a long time. Last time, it was heartbreaking because we were so young. But coach has told us, years have passed and different things are going to happen. I feel like this is our year."
One young man who would probably disagree with Bell is Calhoun City quarterback J.R. Jennings.
Jennings, listed at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, is undoubtedly the Wildcats primary offensive threat.
Already this season, Jennings has thrown for 2,299 yards and 27 touchdowns.
If Jennings' arm fails him, he's not afraid to use his legs as he's rushed for 316 yards and seven scores.
"He stretches you out a lot on defense," said Carden of Jennings. "He'll use the whole field and he runs it well. He avoids the rush well, he reads well, and if the linebackers come up to make plays, he chunks it right over their heads. He's the full package."
Jennings isn't Carden's only concern heading into tonight. In reviewing tapes and scouting the Wildcats, East Webster's leader hasn't seen too many chinks in Calhoun City's armor at all.
"We've watched them time and time again," said Carden. "We've seen three ballgames on film and they look better each time. We just quit watching because they kept looking better."
If Carden wants to feel better about his chances against a team as tough as Calhoun City, he can simply take a look at his own roster.
Bell, along with quarterback Ledrick Patterson and running back Demetrius O'Briant, have put up big offensive game after big offensive game for East Webster all year long.
Last week against Kennedy, the dynamic trio once again took advantage of the Wolverines' talented offensive line to tally 344 total rushing yards and five touchdowns.
With Bell, Patterson, and O'Briant producing, combined with the ever-present threat of wide receivers such as Miguel Graham, Carden's offensive firepower can be just as potent as the Wildcats'.
As much notoriety as East Webster's offense has gotten this season, the defense can be just as dominant behind names such as Bolo McCurry, Josh Gladney, Tyler Gregg, Damien Britt, Xavier Moye, Lilton Vance, and others.
With so many contributions from so many different players, it has already been a season to remember for the little school in Cumberland.
The only thing left to do now is make it keep on lasting by overcoming the Wildcats.
"That's all we've been hearing is 'Calhoun City, Calhoun City,'" said Patterson. "We are just tired of hearing it. We've just got to keep our head on straight and go play."
The winner of tonight's game will advance to next week's Class 2A North championship game against either West Bolivar or Coahoma County.
Carden will do everything he can to make sure it's the Wolverines, not the Wildcats, that move closer to a state title.
"We're pretty evenly matched," said Carden. "Whoever makes the least mistakes and executes well is probably going to win the football game. Take care of the football and do what you're supposed to do and whichever does that the best is going to be in good shape."