Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.|
Austin High seniors Quenton Davis, Steven Wright, Xalyn Peek and Marquis Morris will be playing their final high school football game Friday night when they suit up for crosstown rival Decatur. Kickoff time for the Ogle Stadium game is 7 p.m.
Austin group can leave its mark beating Decatur 2 straight years
By Brooke Milam
There is a new fire and a renewed purpose as the Austin High Black Bears prepare to face Decatur this week.
Watch just five minutes of practice, and you’ll see and hear it.
“Did you see that out there?” asked center Xalyn Peek, who is a three-year starter on the offensive line. “There’s been a lot of hard hitting.”
A senior class on a mission fuels the Black Bears’ intensity this week.
Austin has a chance to beat Decatur for the second straight time when the two teams close out the regular season Friday. The Black Bears have not beaten their rivals in back-to-back games since 1985, before any of the current players were born.
Twenty-two years ago, Tom Calvin’s Austin squad beat Decatur in the regular season and again in the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs. Last season’s 17-14 win over the Red Raiders sets up a significant opportunity this week.
The Black Bears (4-5) fell out of the 6A playoff picture with a 27-21 loss to Buckhorn last week, but Friday’s game against 5A No. 6-ranked Decatur (8-1) gives this year’s seniors a chance to make their mark on the Austin program.
“Establishing a new starting point for Austin football — something they can build on,” senior linebacker Marquis Morris said.
This year’s 21 seniors are part of the first class that has been through fourth-year Austin head coach David Norwood’s program from start to finish, and Norwood said he has seen something special in them from his first day on the job.
“They’re a close-knit class, and I’ve always thought they had a good work ethic,” Norwood said. “They’ve stuck together pretty well since the ninth grade. They’re a pretty solid group.”
When the Austin seniors leave the program after this season, they’ll leave it “a whole lot better” than when the group entered high school, according to senior left tackle Quenton Davis.
This year’s seniors have helped create a team atmosphere that those inside the program agree had been lacking.
“The team aspect is better,” Peek said. “There are no individuals on this team.”
It is what led Norwood in the preseason to say, “This is a team that years from now when the program is going good, they will be able to trace it all the way back to this group and say, ‘Those are the guys that turned things around.’ I think their dedication is where it needs to be. They’re working toward a common goal.”
It’s a group Norwood has wanted to see succeed, and he said he’s seen these seniors make strides in their varsity careers, especially this season.
“The thing I’m the proudest of them for is they way they finished this year against Sparkman and Grissom,” Norwood said.
Austin came from behind in the fourth quarter against both Sparkman and Grissom for two of its three region wins this season. The other was a solid 31-14 defeat of Hazel Green.
The Black Bears scored with 13.3 seconds left for a 34-28 win over Grissom and beat Sparkman 34-31 on a late field goal with three seconds remaining.
“We found a way to dig ourselves out of a hole, and that’s something we might not have been able to do the past couple of years,” Norwood said.
Norwood is hoping to see the same determination Friday night.
The River City rivalry has offered its fair share of great games since its inception in 1965, and when the Black Bears take the field Friday, they will have a chance to make history.
It’s Austin and Decatur. It’s here, and the common goal is now evident for the Black Bears, as a senior class can save a disappointing season with one last win to celebrate for years to come.
“We all know it’s our last week,” senior linebacker Steven Wright said. “It’s because our senior class is so close, so it’s easy to lead by example that way.”
River City rivalry
Who: Austin (4-5) vs. Decatur (8-1).
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: Ogle Stadium.
What to read
Wednesday: Austin High seniors have a chance to leave their mark on the Black Bears’ program.
Thursday: This year’s Red Raiders mirror Decatur High’s 2005 region champions.
Friday: One last advance look at the matchup.
Saturday: Complete coverage from the game.
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