East Limestone didn't finish the regular season the way it wanted to, but the Indians players have a chance to put that out of their minds when they begin the Class 5A playoffs Friday night against Parker.
East saw a six-game winning streak come to an end with a 35-19 loss to Russellville, then suffered a 43-40 upset loss to Class 3A opponent Sylvania in its regular-season finale two weeks ago.
East Limestone coach Jeff Pugh said injuries in the secondary were partially to blame for the losses, especially the Sylvania loss in which the Rams had more than 400 yards passing.
“We gave up way too many big plays against Sylvania,” Pugh said. “We had some news guys who had to move into the secondary because we lost a kid for the year. We had to shuffle some people around. They got kind of thrown to the wolves, and that night (Sylvania) was very good. We had some people who had to learn from their mistakes and it cost us a ballgame.”
However, East Limestone (6-3) had last week off to rest up and fix their defensive issues. Pugh said he knew they would be playing Parker, so the two weeks were spent in preparation for their playoff opponent.
Parker finished third in Region 5 and boasts an overall record of 5-4. Pugh said the Thundering Herd have an explosive offense, which makes improving the Indians defense even more important.
“They're talented offensively,” Pugh said. “This group has definitely got the capability of scoring in one play. We're going to have to do a better job defensively this week to stay in the game.”
One thing East Limestone defenders have been working on is staying focused on their keys and using their vision to make sure they are in the right spot.
“You let your eyes look at the wrong thing and you're in big trouble,” Pugh said. “If you get your eyes focused on where they need to be, it will put your body where it needs to be. We didn't do that against Sylvania. We know what (Parker) does, it just comes down to whether we're focused enough to be where we're supposed to be.”
But if the defense has some breakdowns, East Limestone might have to rely on its offense to win the game. The way the Indians have been playing offensively lately, that might not be a bad thing.
“I think our best defense is to keep doing what we've been doing offensively, run the clock and get some sustained drives,” Pugh said. “We've got to continue to take care of the ball, which is something we've done really well the last three games. We haven't had a lot of turnovers.”
East Limestone will be the home team, which will help. But Pugh said he has stressed to his players there are no second chances at this point in the season.
“It's not like we get a second chance if we don't win this week,” he said. “We're in a do or die situation.”