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Brookhaven Academy is on the edge and should have the edge

Two years ago, they lost all their football games. They were annihilated.

Last year, they lost nine football games and the team was dwindling so fast they picked up the phone, called the last opponent and forfeited midweek — worse than annihilation.

Tonight, the Brookhaven Academy Cougars are putting the area’s most potent offense onto its home field to host a playoff game, the first this season for a local school and the first at BA for a long, long time.

“We’ve come a long way, and we’re really proud of them,” said BA head coach Ron Rushing. “Before this year, we had a group of kids who had never won a high school football game.”

Tonight at 7 p.m., the Cougars (8-2, 2-1) welcome the Central Holmes Christian Trojans (6-4, 2-2) in the first round of Mississippi Association of Independent Schools playoff games for District 4 AA. It’s the biggest moment of an exciting season for the Cougars, and it represents an outstanding achievement in one of the state’s biggest program turnarounds.

The challenge for Rushing in practice this week has been keeping his players calm and collected on the eve of the biggest game of their lives.

Or maybe not.

“We don’t want them calm — we want them on the edge. I told them when you get to the playoffs, it’s something you need to remember,” he said. “We’re having a good time in practice, we’re kind of loose. I want them to have a good time and remember this.”

The Cougars don’t need to learn anything new in practice, anyway — the Trojans won’t be reinventing football when they come to Brookhaven, but they will bring a simple, streamlined offense consisting of spread formations and the good, old-fashioned I-Formation.

Rushing said Central Holmes doesn’t have a thick playbook, but they run a handful of plays very well and “have a pretty good imagination” on offense. He’s expecting trickery.

“Our defense has to be disciplined, and know which gaps are their responsibility,” Rushing said. “What we’ve done well all year is get hats on the football, and we have to continue to do that.”

Defensively, the Trojans will meet the Cougars with an old-school 4-4 defense, flooding the field with linebackers. The visiting team should have the middle of the field covered, but the 4-4 leaves defenders all alone in the open spaces of the secondary, and BA seems well equipped to seize the opportunity.

BA junior quarterback Dawson Flowers has led a hungry passing game this season, totaling more than 2,000 yards through the air and 21 touchdowns. Leading receiver Cade Brown, a junior, has caught 54 of Flowers’ passes for 949 yards and 11 touchdowns. Senior Luke Jackson has 405 yards and three scores, and senior Tate Felder has accumulated 364 yards and two trips to the end zone.

If Central Holmes manages to shut down the Cougar passing attack, a pair of solid, senior running backs are ready to challenge the Trojan linebackers. Tanner Waldrop has rushed for 673 yards and 13 touchdowns while averaging 12.2 yards per carry — a first down every time he touches the ball. Logan Murray has rushed for 542 yards and scored another eight times, including a long of 67 yards.

If the Cougars win their first playoff game since God was a boy, they will host the winner of tonight’s matchup between Centreville Academy and Carrol Academy — if it’s 15-seed Carrol Academy. If district bully Centreville, the No. 2 seed, wins, BA travels to Centreville next week.

And if the Cougars lose and the season ends, weightroom training for 2018 starts Monday.

“Obviously the kids will be disappointed if we lose, but everything from this point on is positive,” Rushing said. “Looking back, they’ve had a season to be proud of.”