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RCB defense preparing for Indians

by Mike Nutter

SPORTS WRITER

The game is still three days away, but it's hard to tell from all of the attention it's drawing.

Banners already blanket the road up to Robert C. Byrd High School in preparation for Friday's homecoming game. This game is always big, but this season, it's even bigger. This year's opponent is Bridgeport and not just any Bridgeport team.

Of course, this isn't just another Eagles' team either. Class AAA No. 7 Robert C. Byrd and Class AA No. 1 Bridgeport (6-0) meet in what is possibly the state's biggest game of the week.

Even Robert C. Byrd head coach Richard Iaquinta, who is normally reserved, acknowledged what this game means. Iaquinta, who served as an assistant at Bridgeport for 18 years, says the success of both teams this season adds to the game.

"No doubt, this is a big game," Iaquinta said. "Both teams are undefeated, and it means a lot in the Big 10 championship. Plus they've known each other for a lot of years.

"I guess it could be the biggest game in the state this week. I can understand why there would be a lot of interest. Both of us are highly rated and want to be up there with the best of them."

Stopping the Indians is something Iaquinta said is something you can't completely do. The Bridgeport offense is averaging 376.3 yards of total offense and 38.8 points a game. Three running backs have rushed for more than 300 yards this season.

However, running against the Robert C. Byrd defense is something many teams haven't had much success doing. The Eagles are giving up 77.7 yards per game and have allowed just one opposing running back to gain more than 100 yards rushing. The Class AAA No. 1 rated defense a season ago is still living up to its name, giving up 166 yards of total offense and 5.2 points.

"We can't let up one play," Robert C. Byrd linebacker Sam D'Annunzio said. "(Bridgeport) never quits. They keep coming at you. We have to play full speed the whole time. Whoever lets up first could be the team to lose.

"The rankings really don't matter. It's going to be a hard hitting game. We have to win up front and stop their run."

Last season, Robert C. Byrd held the Indians to 80 yards of total offense in a 13-7 win.

"We pretty much know what (Bridgeport) is going to do, but there's a difference in knowing what's coming and being able to stop it," Robert C. Byrd safety George Shehl said. "We haven't faced a team with this much speed this season, especially at the skill positions.

"I still think the game's going to be won up front. I think they'll try to stick to (the run), but we've been able to stop the run so far. Last week Liberty hit some passes on us, so I think they're going to open it up, but not too much."

n TICKETS AVAILABLE: Robert C. Byrd assistant principal Doug Hogue said tickets may be purchased in advanced by stopping at the school's office.

Sports writer Mike Nutter can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at sports@exponent-telegram.com

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