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East Limestone coach Jeff Pugh, left, and quarterback Cade Medley discuss plans at practice Tuesday for the Indians' key contest against North Jackson on Friday night. Both Class 4A, Region 7 teams are undefeated at 5-0.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
East Limestone coach Jeff Pugh, left, and quarterback Cade Medley discuss plans at practice Tuesday for the Indians' key contest against North Jackson on Friday night. Both Class 4A, Region 7 teams are undefeated at 5-0.

Preparing for a showdown
No. 3 E. Limestone travels
to No. 1 N. Jackson

By Brooke Milam · 340-2460

CAPSHAW — Heated. Intense. Fierce. Challenging.

Those are some of the words coaches and players use to describe this week's Class 4A, Region 7 showdown between No. 3-ranked East Limestone and No. 1 North Jackson High.

And how should a coach keep those kinds of emotions in check? East Limestone coach Jeff Pugh said it's impossible. Instead, the Indians say they thrive upon the fiery atmosphere that surrounds North Jackson week.

"We use it," Pugh said. "We've been telling our guys that in their high school careers this is probably the biggest game they've ever played."

Both undefeated, East Limestone (5-0) will travel to North Jackson (5-0) on Friday at 7 p.m. to meet a challenge that is familiar territory for the Indians.

It is not a challenge that East Limestone takes lightly, out of respect for past Indians teams that have battled the Chiefs and passed down the tradition of playing top competition tough.

"For this week, everybody has to be at the top of their game," senior tight end Hayden Scott said. "We look into this game more than any other game. Ever since we've played them, it's been our biggest game of the regular season. It's always a competition."

The two teams have played annually since 2000, when North Jackson moved down to 4A after a brief stint in 5A and East Limestone moved up from 3A.

North Jackson has owned the series at 6-1 since that time, with a combined score of 175-104. Even so, the Indians consistently have given the Chiefs some of their closest competition, and the game traditionally had been a defining game in Region 7.

If the Indians can pull off a win, East Limestone will take a rivalry triple crown. After beating Limestone County rival Athens 7-6 in the season opener, East Limestone knocked off another county opponent, Tanner, 58-0 last week.

“We know that if we beat them, we should win Region 7,” senior receiver/defensive back O’Neal King said.

The last time that happened was 2004, when the current seniors were freshmen. The Indians took a 14-6 victory under the late Phil Cavnar on what is now named Cavnar Field.

East Limestone won Region 7 that season, Cavnar’s last at the helm before his untimely death the following summer.

Cavnar himself called the matchup “the biggest game in North Alabama every year.”

“Our kids have respected their program for years, and every year at the start of the season, you talk
about North Jackson and you talk about us, and these kids know that,” Pugh said.

Since joining 4A, Region 7 in 2000, North Jackson has won five of six region championships and finished runner-up to East Limestone in 2004.

North Jackson also won the 1993 4A state championship and finished runner-up in 2002. The Chiefs have made the playoffs in 18 out of the school’s 19-year existence.

East Limestone players spent all of their Monday practice time watching game tape and the Indians were exposed to a potent North Jackson offense with a powerful defense to match.

The Chiefs are averaging 295 rushing yards a game, led by junior running back Ron Gary’s 82 carries for 751 yards, including 10 touchdowns. A.J. Matthews is next with 55 carries for 307 yards and five scores.

Senior quarterback Zack Stewart has completed 19 of 32 passes for 385 yards and five touchdowns.

Defensively, North Jackson has given up just 10.2 points a game.

Its sound defense is led by leading tackler Frankie Crabtree, a senior who also led the Chiefs in tackles last season with 62.

For East Limestone, senior Chad Dewitt, a four-year starter, is the director of an offense that is averaging 41.4 points a game. Dewitt’s balance includes nearly 500 yards rushing and 300 yards passing. He has rushed for nine touchdowns and thrown for two more.

Senior running back Jonathan Pinque has rushed for 480 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Indians’ defensive strengths are widespread, as usual. Senior middle linebacker Jamie Baldwin’s 35 tackles, include eight for lost yardage, while junior safety Sam Chaney has two interceptions and 27 tackles.

Players can describe simply why the matchup has stayed strong throughout the years: “They’ve always got a good team every year, and we do, too,” Scott said.

And it’s because of that tradition that this week’s game means as much as it ever has, with two strong programs and high stakes.

“When you come into the fieldhouse this week, it’s the biggest week of the season,” King said. “North Jackson week — it’s always been that way.

The rivalry at a glance

Even though North Jackson owns a 6-1 record over East Limestone since 2000 in their Class 4A, Region 7 series, the two programs have established themselves as the premier teams in the region and continue to battle for top billing.

Who: East Limestone (5-0) at North Jackson (5-0).

When: Friday at 7 p.m. in Stevenson.

Past winners

2000: North Jackson 21-14

2001: North Jackson 19-14

2002: North Jackson 10-7

2003: North Jackson 48-21

2004: East Limestone 14-6

2005: North Jackson 50-20

2006: North Jackson 21-14

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