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STARTING UP: Commodores eye fast region start against Ripley

Avoiding the first landmine won’t get Lafayette completely out of harm’s away, but it would help the Commodores in their quest to defend their region title if they made it through the first checkpoint unscathed.

Lafayette went a perfect 5-0 a season ago in Region 2-4A and earned the top playoff seed before being bounced in the second round of the MHSAA Class 4A playoffs, and the Commodores will try to take the first step in repeating when Ripley visits William L. Buford Stadium on Friday for both teams’ region opener.

“We want to win the division and set ourselves up for the playoffs as the No. 1 seed,” Lafayette coach Eric Robertson said. “We control that destiny right now. It’s a lot better to go as the 1 seed than the 2, 3 or 4 seed. Doesn’t mean it can’t work out for you, but the road to Vaught-Hemingway (for the state championship game) is a lot easier if you’re the 1 seed.”

The Commodores (5-1), the state’s top-ranked team in 4A, finished the non-region portion of their slate with back-to-back wins, including a shutout last week of Charleston, the defending North Half champion in 3A that’s known for speed and athleticism. With games against the likes of the Tigers, Oxford and Grenada in the first six weeks, Robertson said his team is about as ready as it’s going to get to deal with Ripley (2-3) and the rest of its region opponents.

“I think it pays off playing those type of teams because we’ve been in a game where we’ve seen that kind of speed and it doesn’t catch us off guard,” Robertson said. “I know Rosa Fort has a lot of speed, but I don’t think we can see anybody faster, at least I hope not, than what we’ve seen out of Oxford, Charleston and some of those guys.”

Big and small
Ripley possesses some of that speed in scatback Tavion Prather, who the Tigers will use on speed sweeps and in the slot to try to get the playmaker in space, but Robertson said Ripley’s bread and butter still lies in trying to overpower opponents with a downhill running game. Big-bodied quarterback Tucker Childers is part of that equation as the 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior brings a physical element with his legs to go with a strong arm.

“(Childers) is a big kid — tall, strong kid that can throw the ball well and runs extremely well,” Robertson said. “Always runs forward when he runs the ball. That’s the main thing that stands out. They’ll give us a lot of formations, and we expect them to try to line up and run right at us.”

Ripley’s defense has shown a variety of different fronts on film, Robertson said, but the Commodores are expecting to see a lot of 5-2 sets from the Tigers as they try to slow down Lafayette’s annually strong ground game. Senior running back Tyrell Price has already surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark (1,019) and has gone for more than 100 in five straight games.

That — and a defense that’s allowed more than 14 points just once and surrendered just 10 in the last two games combined — has helped Lafayette win five of its first six games, and the Commodores don’t plan to start straying too far from what’s worked to this point.

“That’s been the message this week is to go out and continue to play the way we’ve been playing, and I think if we can do that, then we’ll be OK,” Robertson said.