First, LE MUST limit turnovers. They turned it over three times very early in their first meeting, putting themselves behind the proverbial eight-ball from the outset. I think anymore than one TO will spell sure doom. They came up huge in the must-win game at Fairfield Central in the pouring rain, going the entire game with no turnovers, so this is very possible. They have coughed it up 30 times this season, but only seven times in the last six games, and they are +7 in the turnover category during that stretch.
Second, LE MUST limit big plays by Union's skilled players. LE had trouble tackling on the corners against Broome, and that has to improve against Union or Knox and his receivers will have a lot of big plays. They don't have the overall team speed to miss tackles and run the play down, so the initial tackler has to wrap up and hold on for his help to arrive.
Third, LE MUST control the clock. This doesn't mean they have to score a lot (while that is preferable), but they have to be able to pick up first downs, sustain drives, and eat the clock away. LE has re-established its running game in the playoffs, but the Offensive Line will have to have a big game, and the backs must run hard and smart and hold on to the ball. Sophomore Clifton "The Beast" Gathers has 703 yards on 129 carries and 15
TD's on the year, but he has rushed 69 times for 387 yards and 7 TD's in the playoffs. Antonio Kelly has also rushed for 549 yards on 111 carries and 8 TD's this season.
Fourth, Antonio Kelly MUST make smart plays. In the first matchup, Kelly was basically new to the spread offense. Union's secondary speed was something he had never seen, and he made two bad decisions early in that game, which resulted in INT's. After those, he seemed to learn how to deliver the ball against that kind of speed and threw well the rest of the game. He must have total recall of what it is like to play against that
kind of speed. He must also make good running decisions and not put the ball on the ground. Kelly has settled down nicely in the second half of the season. He is 136/256 (53.1%) for 1,815 yards, 17 TD's and 16 INT's on the year. But, his numbers have also picked up in the last six games where he has been 51/99 (51.5%) for 798, 10 TD's and 2 INT's.
Fifth, LE's receivers must be ready for hard, pinpoint passes. In the first meeting, as Kelly learned to play at that level, he realized he had to put mustard on the ball to deliver it on time and in the very few spaces in the Union secondary. His receivers let him down a few times by not being able to hold on to good throws, including two sure touchdowns. They must do this to keep the chains moving and build confidence in Kelly. Darnell Wallace,
LE's all-time leading receiver, has been the go-to guy all year with 55 catches for 935 yards and 11 TD's. But, this team is deep with capable receivers, as 16 different players have caught a pass, with six different players having more than 10 catches and eight different players catching touchdowns.
Sixth, the LE Defense MUST play big against the run. Everybody knows Knox will get his completions, so the interior six (or seven, or eight, depending on the scheme) have to play strong and limit Union's running attack. The extra games in this season have allowed Scott Jones to find players he didn't know he had on the first trip, so the total defensive speed is a little better and lots more young guys have experience.
Seventh, the LE kicking game needs to be perfect. Their kick coverage has been suspect this season. This team must come up big to have a chance to win. Good coverage is a must, and getting a turnover would be nice. Also, kicker Brian Clifton has to hit everything he tries. This is a game where LE may try four or five FG's, and they will need every one. Clifton is 4/6 on FG's, with a long of 37(twice), and 30/35 on PAT's, so he is solid.
Eighth, Union needs to help out by taking LE lightly, looking ahead to Camden (or Dillon), or just generally not playing up to their potential. They did make some mistakes in the first game, and that will have to happen again for LE to pull off the upset.
Now, all that being said, LE was not supposed to be here. Heck, after the loss to Clover, they weren't even expected to MAKE the playoffs. This team is comfortable in the roll of the underdog, which they have been for six straight weeks. They seem to thrive on adversity and do not get down on themselves when things are going badly. That any team could win through everything this team has been through -- a coaching change at the last minute limiting the effectiveness of Spring Practice, the death of a senior starting offensive lineman at the end of the school year, the installation of a brand new offense at a school with a 30-year history of a grinding running attack -- is a testament to these players, these coaches, the fans, and this community. If the Demons can weather the first 12~18 minutes relatively unscathed, it should be a great night to be at Union County Stadium all the way. If this game is within 21 with 8:00 to go, it's still anybody's ball game.
Bottom line is the Demons have done what it takes to be here. They have already seen the circus atmosphere at Union and will not be intimidated. This group of young men fights to the end, and I expect no less from them Friday night. They ha