Surprising District Unbeatens Collide When Winona Travels To West Rusk
DISTRICT 8-3A DIVISION II
Winona Wildcats (4-1, 2-0)
West Rusk Raiders (5-0, 2-0)
7:30 p.m. Friday
Bruce Bradshaw Stadium, New London
- Winona: Keylon Kincade
- West Rusk: John Frazier
- Winona: at Waskom, Oct. 16
- West Rusk: at Elysian Fields, Oct. 16
- RB/LB Deundre Wheeler, Jr., 5-10, 190 (96 carries, 623 yards, 6 TDs; 2 catches, 48 yards)
- WR Quaylan Brown, Sr., 5-5, 145 (12 catches, 180 yards, 1 TD; 26 carries, 220 yards, 3 TDs)
- QB Braxton Kincade, Jr., 5-11, 175 (14 of 47, 242 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT; 14 carries, 96 yards, 1 TD)
- WR/DB Jeremiah Bolton, Sr., 5-10, 155
- OL/DL Tecorian Simmons, Jr., 6-1, 290
- OL/DL Leland Norman, Sr., 5-7, 180
- WR/LB Chris Lindley, Sr.
- ATH K.J. Kincade, Fr., 5-10, 160 (11 carries, 73 yards, 1 TD)
- QB Dee Starling, Sr., 6-2, 190 (34 of 63, 647 yards, 10 TDs, 4 INTs; 21 carries, 146 yards)
- RB Nick Ballard, Sr., 5-10, 220 (62 carries, 643 yards, 8 TDs)
- WR/DB Breyon Thurman, Sr., 6-4, 165 (10 catches, 338 yards, 5 TDs; 20 tackles, 1 INT, 4 PBUs)
- WR/DB D.J. Hicks, Sr., 5-9, 160 (10 catches, 181 yards, 2 TDs; 19 tackles, 1 INT, 3 PBUs)
- LB Joe Wright, Sr., 6-0, 225 (77 tackles, 7 for loss, 2 sacks, 2 QB pressures, 2 forced fumbles, 1 recovery, 1 INT, 1 PBU)
- LB Jacob Waller, Jr., 5-11, 190 (52 tackles, 8 for loss, 1 fumble recovery)
- WR/DB Kevin Jones, Jr., 6-3, 175 (11 catches, 108 yards, 3 TDs; 37 tackles, 4 for loss, 3 INTs, 4 PBUs, 1 forced fumble, 2 recoveries)
- DL Matthew Davidson, Soph., 5-6, 220 (26 tackles, 8 for loss, 2 forced fumbles, 1 recovery, 1 INT, 1 PBU)
Just the facts
- Winona has not won more than five games in a season since 2008.
- West Rusk is currently riding a seven-game winning streak dating back to last season.
- Winona is averaging 20 points and 274.2 yards per game -- 214.2 rushing and 60 passing.
- The Wildcats are allowing 22.2 points per game. They allowed 47.4 in 2014.
- Winona has made the playoffs just once since 1994.
- West Rusk is averaging 37.8 points and 428.4 yards per game -- 294.2 rushing and 134.2 passing.
- The Raiders are allowing 9.6 points per game. They allowed 30.9 in 2014.
- West Rusk has not made the playoffs since 2011.
Key matchup: West Rusk rushing attack vs. Winona defensive front. One of the biggest keys to West Rusk's 5-0 start to the season has been a ground game that's averaged almost 300 yards per game. It all starts with a veteran offensive line anchored by senior Corey Brister. The big men up front have done a tremendous job all season providing running lanes for a plethora of Raiders ball carriers. The featured back is junior Nick Ballard, who is averaging almost 130 yards per game and an impressive 10.4 yards per attempt. But Ballard is not alone. Four other ball carries have rushed for at least 130 yards on the season, and as a team, the Raiders are averaging more than eight yards per carry.
What makes West Rusk's running game so difficult to contain is the threat of the Raiders' passing game, which has made life tough on opposing defenses as well. West Rusk only averages 134 passing yards per game, but most of the Raiders' completions go for big gains. For the season, quarterback Dee Starling is averaging 19 yards per completion. The receiving corps is a big-play group as well, and no one makes bigger plays in the passing game than senior receiver Breyon Thurman, who leads the team in receiving yards and touchdowns, and carries an astounding average of 33.8 yards per reception into Friday night's game.
Before Winona can worry itself with West Rusk's passing abilities, the Wildcats must first focus all of their efforts into stopping the Raiders on the ground. If Winona can force West Rusk into enough obvious passing situations, the Wildcats can go after a quarterback that has thrown four interceptions on the year and is only completing 54 percent of his passes. In addition, the Raiders' explosive gains in the downfield passing game could be neutralized by a strong Winona rush defense.
Don't be surprised if: Friday's game is fairly low scoring. Winona has yet to find its footing on offense, and instead, has relied on a dominant defense that's helped the Wildcats to a 4-1 start on the year. Winona's first two district opponents have combined for just 35 points, and aside from a 42-21 loss to Ore City in Week 3, the Wildcats are limiting opposing offenses to a little more than 17 points per game. Meanwhile, West Rusk's defense has been even more impressive through five games. Only one team -- Arp -- has scored more than 12 points on the Raiders this season. The Raiders are a physical and aggressive bunch on the defensive side of the ball, evidenced by their 45 tackles for loss on the year. In addition, West Rusk has forced 20 turnovers thus far -- eight interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries. Most of the evidence points to a West Rusk victory, but if the game is close late, Winona has been the most battle-tested of the two teams. The Wildcats' four wins have come by a combined 10 points.