Tackling an emphasis for Colonels against Eagles

WINCHESTER — It was a bad week to be a tackling dummy at James Wood High School last week.
 
Disappointed with his team’s tackling in a 45-20 loss against Hedgesville (W.Va.), Colonels coach Ryan Morgan said much of the bye week was going back to the basics, preparing for tonight’s 7 p.m. Class 4 Northwestern District football clash at Liberty and beyond.
 
“In a regular week, there’s so much game-planning stuff for that next opponent that you don’t have a lot of time to work on the fundamentals,” Morgan said. “Some of the stuff, we kind of went back to what we were doing in the first couple of weeks of August to refresh our memories in a couple of areas.”
 
And Morgan said the Colonels definitely needed to brush up on tackling techniques. Hedgesville racked up 409 yards of total offense, including 244 on the ground.
 
“Tackling was a big problem for us,” Morgan said. “They had some good athletes … but we were tackling too high.”
 
Morgan says the week off was also important for a team that has fought injuries during the first half of the season.
 
“We tried to get healthy,” he said. “We tried to get the kids a little bit of time off and some practices that weren’t quite so heavy hitting so we could get some guys rested up.”
 
Morgan says his players will need all of their energy against Liberty, which advanced to the Region 4C championship game last season. The Eagles (2-3, 1-1) have struggled so far, but still have talent. Sean Finnerty has led Liberty into the postseason in five of his six previous seasons as coach.
 
“Liberty is a good football program,” Morgan said. “They’ve been good for a lot of years. We’ve got to make sure we’re playing up to their level and we’re not intimidated by their success, size or speed. They had a good year last year. Their record is a little bit down this year, but they are still a good football team.”
 
The Eagles, led by quarterback Raymond Morton, certainly will test the Colonels’ defense. Morton can run and throw. In a 54-31 win over Chancellor earlier this season, Morton threw four touchdown passes and rushed for 79 yards. Liberty is also coming off a bye week after losing 55-21 to Sherando.
 
“Offensively, they’ve got a lot of guys who can run,” Morgan said. “They’ve got some size up front. They run a lot of run-pass options with their quarterback. He’s a pretty quick runner. He does a good job of making his reads and getting the ball to his wide receivers when he can pass the ball.
 
“They’re a little bit of a different team in that sense because we haven’t played any other team so far that runs as many run-pass options. We’ve got to be solid up front and on the back end on every play.”
 
Liberty is also coming off a bye week and will surely focus on the Colonels’ running game, which can be methodical or produce a big play. William Crowder (80) and Sam Adkins (60) had long touchdown runs against Hedgesville.
 
Morgan is concerned with offensive line play. For the first time this season, the unit is healthy, but there is still competition to solidify the left tackle spot.
 
“Offensively, we’re working on our pass protection,” he said. “We worked on our run blocking up front to try to shore up some things.”
 
The Colonels hung with Liberty early last season before the Eagles pulled away to a 48-0 romp. Tonight’s game is Homecoming for Liberty, which is never short on pageantry. Liberty leads the all-time series 11-1, with James Wood’s lone win a 3-2 decision in 2002.
 
“None of these kids shave been down to Liberty to play a varsity football game,” Morgan said. “I think it will be a new experience and hopefully we will have some redemption for last year because it didn’t go so well.”
 
Morgan points to a number of things his team must do to reverse the outcome, but one is a priority.
 
“The No. 1 thing I’m looking for is better tackling,” he said. “We missed so many tackles against Hedgesville that it was really frustrating. They had some strong runners, but we’re going to see good athletes down the stretch against Liberty and some other teams. Hopefully, we can show up with our tackling and our defense can get off the field. They are on the field for too long. We need to get some third downs and force some punts.”
 
Morgan said his team is anxious to get back on the field.
 
“Especially when you lose going into a bye week, you want to get back out there and erase that taste from your mouth because you have to sit and stew with it for a couple of weeks,” Morgan said. “I think they’re excited to get back out.”
 
 
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