Practicing during the week of Thanksgiving, isn’t new for coach Doug Loughridge.
At Charleston, Loughridge was making it a habit of during his tenure there.
Now, for the first time since 2004, the Airedales are practicing during the week of Thanksgiving as they prepare to host Batesville Friday night.
"Practicing on Thanksgiving day is a goal we set for ourselves last January. It’s a goal that can measure your team’s success for the year," said Loughridge. "If you’re practicing that day, it’s been a good year. If you practice the week after, it’s been a great year.
"We thought that if we would win the conference, we would have a chance to be playing Thanksgiving week since we would be at home for three rounds."
Being at home for the playoffs does afford Alma some luxuries, but the coach added that the team does need to stick to its routine.
"Limiting the distractions this week is a must. We will follow the same practice plan as usual, we’ll just adjust the times. The best part about this week is to be able to celebrate Thanksgiving with your family and friends, and be able to have lots of conversation about the big game the next night," said Loughridge. "It’s good to be able to have our regular Friday routine and not have to get on a bus and trevel acrosss the state, and to have the advantage of playing on our turf."
And speaking of turf, Alma traveled to Northside to practice Monday afternoon.
Batesville enters Friday’s contest after knocking off Camden Fairview 26-24 last week. The game was a rematch of last year’s Class 5A finals, in which Camden Fairview won 28-10. Batesville defeated Wynne 37-12 on Oct. 18 to help secure the Pioneers’ third conference title in four years.
The Pioneer offense averages 35.6 points per game this season and was held less than 30 points three times this season, including against Camden Fairview. The other games included the 21-0 win over Nettleton (Sept. 27) and 42-27 win against Springdale (Sept. 6).
Batesville began the season 1-2 with losses to Class 7A Springdale and Class 6A Jonesboro, before rolling out nine straight wins.
"Batesville is a very well coached team. (The Pioneers) are very sound in all three phases of the game," Loughridge said. "They base out of the I-formation and have a very sound run game. (The Pioneers) are very big and physical up front and very fundamentally sound."
Alma began the same way. The Airedales started with a win followed by losses to Class 6A Greenwood and Russellville.
Batesville starts Kenton Crawford at quarterback. Crawford had eight carries for 123 yards and three touchdowns in the first half against Greenbrier (Nov. 15). He also completed six passes for 70 yards and a touchdown. The Pioneers also rotate four running backs into the game, but places the weight of the team’s success upon its offensive line.
Senior linebacker Joey Rodriguez has 465 tackles during his career and 145 this season. Classmate Ralaigh Jeffery made 123 stops this year.
Through eight games this season, Rodriguez had rushed for 18 touchdowns and threw for another. Rodriguez had three rushing TDs against Blytheville (Oct. 25).
Alma had its second shutout of the season as it blanked Little Rock Mills 26-0 to reach Friday’s semifinals.
It was the first shutout for Alma’s defense since the 47-0 win against Clarksville (Sept. 27).
Junior Curtis Lloyd led the defesnse with eight tackles and now has 75 tackles this season.
Alex Burris has surpassed his previous season-high of 121 tackles (as a sophomore) as he made six stops to reach 128 for a total this season. Burris also had one of four fumbles as Mills committed six turnovers in the game.
JR Edwards also made six tackles in the game.
Alma limited Mills to just six first downs and 84 yards with one completed pass for eight yards.
The offense had 247 yards as Malachi White and Burris combined for 115 yards on the ground. Evan Burris completed 10 to 16 passes for 101 yards and one TD. White reached 1,000-yard plateau as he has 1,061 yards this season with 17 touchdowns. White is averaging 4.8 yards per carry this season.
"We have high expectations for our team. We know opportunities like this are never promised and we must capitalized on what we have earned," said Loughridge. "This is an exciting week for Alma football, the school, the community and our kids."
vs. Greenbrier (Nov. 1) - W, 31-21
vs. Beebe (Nov. 15) - W, 49-23
vs. Greenbrier (Nov. 15) - W, 48-6
vs. Beebe (Nov. 8) - W, 45-14