Southern Prep is getting back its regular 8-man football schedule after playing two 11-man teams in the first two games of the season. The Fighting Rangers started the season two weeks ago when they opened up against Cornerstone Christian. The Fighting Rangers (1-1) were able to best the Chargers, 28-12.
It was a group effort that got the job done for Southern Prep, with a balanced attack on offense and some help from the defense which mustered up four interceptions thanks to Evan Cole and Nyqerious Dowdell, who both had two picks apiece. Comparing the 2019 roster to now, it’s impressive how the Fighting Rangers did in their first game after losing almost all of last season’s production on the offensive side of the ball.
“We’re starting completely over on the offensive side,” Southern Prep football coach Roland Bell said. “We want to balance our offense more this year compared to last year when we had 2,500 rushing yards and barely had 1,000 passing. That’s the plan but we still haven’t found our identity yet.”
The Fighting Rangers weren’t so lucky in the second week losing to Springwood, 21-14, coming up 1 yard short of tying the game as time expired.
“It was an even matchup with different styles,” Bell said. “Springwood had the size advantage on us, but we had the better athletes. They used those big guys to push the line when running the ball and the kept the ball away from us. That ended up being the difference in the game.”
Southern Prep quarterback Owen Wolfe wasn’t as polished as he was in Game 1, throwing for only 83 yards and a pair of interceptions. The Fighting Rangers still had a chance late, stopping the Wildcats offense and forcing them to punt the ball back with a minute left in the game and down by seven points. In the process, Bell had to use Southern Prep’s timeouts to have a chance to get the ball back therefore couldn’t stop the clock when on offense. Wolfe threw a pass to Samuel Roberto, who was tackled at the 1-yard line as time expired, giving the Wildcats a narrow victory.
“We’ve got to improve our blocking and tackling,” Bell said. “That sounds cliché but it’s true. We have some guys that have never played football before so we are still getting past some of the basics.”
The Southern Prep offense has a new look compared to last year’s team after graduating five seniors. Wolfe is playing quarterback instead of receiver and defensive back like he did last season. Dowdell was also a receiver last year and is replacing Yogi Barker at the running back spot. Dowdell is also the leading tackler for the Fighting Rangers on defense, racking up 15 tackles on the season.
Bell is most excited to see the emergence of defensive end and linebacker Tristen Ellis. Ellis played only three games for Southern Prep last season and led the team in sacks with zero prior football experience. Now going into his senior season, Ellis has already amassed a sack and three and a half tackles for loss.
Evan Cole will be a familiar face to Southern Prep fans after being named all-American after his breakout sophomore season last year. Cole’s play hasn’t wavered any as he has already intercepted two balls and has nine tackles through the first two games.
“I used to coach with his dad and I coached his brothers,” Bell said. “They came to me and asked if he could play for me and he started as a ninth-grader. He’s a very good player.”
This week Southern Prep moves back to eight-man football after opening with two 11-man football teams when they take on Westwood.
“Our defense is more comfortable in eight-man, even though it’s harder than 11-man,” Bell said. “Offensively it’s harder on our quarterback with the pass rush getting there quicker, but Wolfe is more mobile than our quarterback last year. He understands that once he gets past that initial pass rush, the field is more open for him to throw someone open or take off with his legs.”
Westwood is entering its first season of eight-man football, not giving Bell much to look at or go off when it comes to preparation.
“Typically they run a 4-3 defense with an ace offense,” Bell said. “In the meantime we are going to prepare for the eight-man version of that, but it’s hard to say what they will do.”
With not much to prepare themselves for, the Fighting Rangers will be focusing on what they do best and bettering themselves at this week’s practices.
Southern Prep’s program has come a long way from when Bell first took over the program, but Bell still feels there is work to be done to get the team where he wants it to be.
“We’re making a strong push to build a program and keep kids longer,” Bell said. “Normally I only have these kids a year and then they are gone. I just want the opportunity to see them develop as players and people.”