On paper, the South Iredell at Reynolds 3-AA football playoff battle Friday night at Dalton Stadium looks like a showdown of quarterbacks.
Both teams feature gifted throwers – senior Brady Pope (3,766 yards, 42 touchdowns) for the No. 3 seed Vikings (11-2), junior Alex Flinn (3,197 yards, 39 TDs) for No. 2 Reynolds (12-1).
And while both will likely play key roles, the winner of the quarterfinal matchup in the 3AA Western Regionals may come down to the defense that best controls the other team’s passing threat.
Reynolds goes into its biggest game of the year minus two starters in the secondary – Dre Dowdle and Seth Eberhardt are out with injuries.
Coach Shane Laws said he may reach over to his offense to help on the other side of the ball.
“Their quarterback is a very good player,” said Laws. “We are going to have to defend the whole field.
“They have produced a lot of big plays, and it’s unrealistic to think we can shut them down. But we can try to limit their big plays.”
The Rockets, who have allowed just 148 points in 13 games this season, will have to depend on some new faces in the secondary.
“We’ll use some of our offensive skill guys to cross over in the secondary,” Laws said.
“We’re going to try and pressure the quarterback and make him as uncomfortable as we can. I’m confident we can do that, and I believe we are the best defense they have seen this year.”
The Vikings have been on an offensive roll during a seven-game winning streak, averaging 50 points a game.
Pope, who has committed to Charlotte and has thrown for more than 10,000 yards in his career, spreads the ball round.
Six different receivers have between 29 and 72 receptions, and seven different players have the 42 TD catches.
The top receiver is Trey Page (926 yards, seven scores).
Defensively, South Iredell puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback (51 sacks). Dean Arriviello leads the way with 18 sacks.
Reynolds was held to a season-low 21 points in a second-roun d win over Southwest Guilford last week after averaging 45 points a game through the first 12 games.
Flinn, who is completing 71 percent of his passes, also spreads the ball around with Nathan St. Onge (83 catches, 945 yards, 12 TDs) and Bryson Patton (48 receptions, 745 yards, 10 scores) his favorite targets.
Both teams have been good with turnover margin, Reynolds a plus 31 (the Rockets defense has 22 interceptions and 20 fumble recoveries).
The Vikings are a plus 23 and have turned the ball over just five times all season (four interceptions, one fumble).
“We’re going to have to score, score a lot to keep up with them,” said Laws. “Our defense has done a great job all season, so if we can force some turnovers and score against them, we like our chances.”
The Rockets, who have won three state 4-A state titles since 1999, are 50-25 all-time in the playoffs. They are looking to advance past the third round of postseason play for the first time since winning a state championship under Laws in 2009.