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‘Athletic’ Louisville next up for rejuvenated Lafayette

It’s amazing what winning can do.

After taking Horn Lake and Grenada to the wire in a pair of losses that came by a combined 16 points, Lafayette got off the schneid in convincing fashion with a 23-3 win over crosstown rival Oxford last week, ending a four-game losing skid in the series. It’s almost as if head coach Michael Fair has been coaching a different team this week in practice.

“The team has been working hard, and I felt like we had kind of been working hard enough to win for the last couple of weeks. It just hadn’t worked out,” Fair said. “That was a huge confidence builder for us. … We needed something good to happen. I’ll just put it like that. It’s been a good week.”

The Commodores (1-2), who received six votes in this week’s Associated Press Class 4A state rankings, take their new-found confidence into Friday’s matchup (7 p.m., 105.1 FM) at William L. Buford Stadium with Louisville, which won’t make it easy for Lafayette to put together its first winning streak of the season.

Louisville will be the fastest team the Commodores have seen so far, Fair said, with a lot of that swiftness coming from the Wildcats’ backfield. Louisville operates out of the spread but does it more to try to create space for its option attack rather than the pass, making for a tricky week of preparation for a Lafayette defense that’s allowing just 14 points a game.

“You’ve got to be sound because they’ll not only run the zone, but they’ve got a quarterback that can run and they’ve got a pitch guy out there,” Fair said. “It’s really option football. As far as the option, you’ve got to have everything covered as far as the dive, the pitch and the quarterback.

“That’s been part of it this week, and (defensive coordinator Ben) Ashley is doing a good job with our defensive coaches of getting guys in the right positions to be able to make those. Feel good about it, but it’s always an unknown when we see it for the first time. You just hope our guys respond to it well.”

When Lafayette has the ball, Louisville will use a combination of four- and five-man defensive fronts to try to slow down Jamarcus Quarles and the rest of the Commodores’ offense. Quarles is averaging 196 rushing yards per game in his first season as the starting running back while Tyler Carmichael-Williams (169 receiving yards, two TDs) and Brandon Turnage (94 yards, one TD) have taken advantage of one-on-one matchups on the outside, but Fair said his offense’s execution will be equally as important as its talent against a Wildcat defense that has the speed to keep up.
“They’re just very athletic. They can run,” Fair said. “They’ll have as much team speed as anybody we’ll play this year.”

It’s one of the reasons the Commodores aren’t paying much attention to Louisville’s 1-3 record coming in. Two of the Wildcats’ losses are to West Point, the No. 3-ranked team in Class 5A, and Kemper County, which is ranked fourth in 3A.

Fair said his team is as healthy as it’s been all season with every player on the varsity roster expected to dress out Friday, and Lafayette doesn’t need anything distracting it now that its season has some momentum.

“I think we’re starting to get that identity a little bit of who we want to be, and our team is buying into it,” Fair said. “I think they’re starting to take a lot of pride in that.”