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Loyd Star travels to Heidelberg for playoffs — Hornets take big offensive line on the road, will try to pound Oilers

He was their “bell cow.”

Loyd Star senior running back Patrick Price, a 6-foot soldier who led the Hornets’ potent rushing attack in 2017, was closing in on 1,000 yards rushing and had visited the end zone 12 times. He was rushing for 7.5 yards per carry — a first down every other play — and was unstoppable in the first quarter last week against West Lincoln.

Then he left the game, and the season, with a broken collarbone. Now Loyd Star will take their rush-dependent offense on the road to face the Heidelberg Oilers in the first round of the 2A playoffs tonight without their leading man.

“You can’t replace Pat,” said Hornets coach Brian Ford. “But what I’ve stressed to our kids all season is ‘next man up.’ We’ve worked several guys at running back this week, and when the ball is kicked off Friday night we’re going to see who has the mentality to take over Patrick’s load.”

The obvious answer is junior running back JaQuan Berry, who has been the “two” in the Hornets’ one-two punch all season. Berry has already rushed for 774 yards and 10 touchdowns in his role spelling Price, and moves along at 7.6 yards per carry.

Berry is small and quick on his feet, with the speed to break free if he can get int the clear. Physical skills aren’t a problem — Ford has been working with the junior in practice this week to prepare him mentally.

“There’s a lot of difference in being the every-down guy and the changeup guy,” Ford said. “He’s going to have to make a focus change this week to step up and be the guy.”

Behind Berry, junior Je’Mario Clay has carried for considerable yardage this season, too. He rushed for 498 yards and six touchdowns, getting downfield to the tune of 7.8 yards per carry. Beyond him, juniors Zack Baker and Dane Smith have carried the ball in limited opportunities and may be called upon if needed.

Ford isn’t worried about the differences in the backs who will have to work together to replace Price’s production on the ground. The most telling statistic among Price, Berry and Clay isn’t their differences, but a promising similarity — all three are rushing for better than 7 yards per carry.

“We live off our offensive line,” Ford said. “We have 2,500 yards rushing this season, and we’re going to continue doing what we do best.”

The junior-laden offensive line are all 6-footers who average 222 pounds, and they have been swinging the door open wide for any running back who wants to leave the Loyd Star backfield all season.

Billy Joe Parrett, Zack Baker, Rials Hester and Zabien Price will be joined on the line by sophomore Bailey Calcote, who’s starting in place of injured junior Parker Bracey. Calcote has been the line’s relief man all season, and moves into the starting position with experience.

Against that experienced line, Heidelberg will bring a large, speedy defense that loves to attack with pressure, Ford said. On offense, the Oilers will try to spread the Hornets out to the sidelines and attack the gaps.

To prepare for the onslaught, Ford has been resting his team this week and focusing on mental adjustments. He wants to be fresh for Round One.

“At this point of the season, everybody is beat up and has injuries, so we have dialed back some of our contact this week,” he said. “We want our guys to concentrate on doing what we do, and we’ve emphasized having a little fun while we’re doing it.”