Riding Four-Game Winning Streak, Atlanta Looks to Keep Rolling as District Starts
It would be easy to roll over and get down on yourself after opening the season with a 31-point loss.
But that's not how Atlanta rolls.
After losing its season opener, 44-13, to now sixth-ranked Henderson, Atlanta has reeled off four consecutive wins going into its first District 7-4A Division II game Friday night at Pittsburg.
"We just went back to work and got some things corrected that they exposed. Henderson's got a really good team," Atlanta coach Matt McClure said. "I think we got refocused and got going since then. We felt like we didn't play bad defense during that game ... we've continued to play pretty good defense and gotten more balanced offensively."
The Rabbits (4-1), who have averaged 44.3 points per game since the loss, are coming off a 53-35 win against Tatum that saw the Rabbits behind at half, erupt for a huge third quarter and then have to hold the Eagles off in the end.
That's especially impressive since Atlanta is without its top two offensive playmakers from 2015. The Rabbits graduated one of East Texas' top rushers in Tyrell Phillips, who ran for 2,131 yards and 28 touchdowns last year. Jeremy Smith, who also graduated, put up more than 1,100 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground in 2015.
This year's team is getting contributions from all over the field, not just one or two primary players. In addition to the arms of legs of quarterback Layton Henson, the Rabbits are also getting big-time plays from the likes of Jawan King, Kelton Young, Nick Cooper, Dontay Casey and others.
King, Young, Cooper, Casey and Henson have all scored at least three touchdowns on the ground this year, with King posting 351 yards rushing and is averaging nine yards per carry.
In the passing game Henson has completed 39 of 72 attempts for 761 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions. His touchdowns have gone to five different receivers.
"It helps in practice because all our kids are playing. We're getting contributions from more than just one or two guys. It makes practice become more competitive because there's a shot for everyone to prove they can do it," McClure said. "We run four tailbacks and we never know who's going to be hot that night. We've started three different tailbacks on occasion, we play about six receivers, seven O-linemen, six D-linemen, six or seven defensive backs. It's great to have kids in backup roles who can really play well and there not be much of a dropoff."
Along with having a great amount of depth, McClure also has a resilient team. The Rabbits faced an early 14-0 deficit against Tatum less than nine minutes into their game last Friday night but clawed their way back into it. Atlanta scored 28 unanswered in the third quarter, only to see its lead shrink to five early in the fourth quarter. But the Rabbits put up two late touchdowns to put the game away.
"The one thing we talked about at halftime against Tatum is that we've won 32 of our last 42 games. I don't think there was any panic ever by the kids or the coaches," McClure said. "It's a long game, a lot of ups and downs, but the kids stayed focus and kept playing. they never lost faith or their focus, like they're going to work and doing their job."
Atlanta now takes that winning streak into district play, starting with Pittsburg on Friday night. The Pirates are the first among five tough district games, which also includes Pleasant Grove, Gladewater, defending champion Gilmer and Spring Hill.
"This is a big game for us. We've had this game circled for a long time," McClure said. "Pittsburg has a fast-paced offense and they do a lot of formations. We have to continue to create turnovers, something we've done a good job of this season. We just have to keep our nose to the grindstone and keep working."