Talking ball: Austin, Decatur coaches preview River City Rivalry

Sep. 1—Much of the city of Decatur will descend upon Ogle Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday to watch the annual football showdown between the Austin Black Bears and the Decatur Red Raiders.

"It's a fun atmosphere. It's an opportunity to play in front of a great crowd and an opportunity for these guys to play against other guys they grew up with," said Austin head coach Jeremy Perkins. "It's always a big game. Rivalry games are like that."

The game will be the 60th meeting between the two schools. Decatur leads the River City Rivalry 37-23, including a 28-14 win last year. Prior to last season, Austin had won seven in a row dating to 2015.

"When you're talking about a rivalry game like this, you throw records out the window," said Decatur head coach Aairon Savage, a former Auburn player who was a part of three Iron Bowl wins. "The team that wins is the one that's more disciplined. The one that can outlast the other."

On Thursday, both Perkins and Savage met with the media to preview their opponent. Here's what each had to say:

Decatur head coach Aairon Savage

Last week Austin rotated quarterbacks in its 28-17 win over Hartselle. Senior Judd Bailey was 4 of 7 passing for 116 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Junior JL Davis was 7 of 8 passing for 100 yards and two touchdowns. Decatur has been preparing for both this week.

"When you're preparing for two guys, you have to break it down and see what each one is doing," Savage said. "Both guys are extremely good athletes and have a great supporting cast. They're going to present a good challenge for us."

Also in last week's game, the Austin defense forced Hartselle into four turnovers. Coming into the season, Savage said his offense would be one that prioritized protecting the football. That's been an extra emphasis this week at practice.

"You have to possess the football in order to win. If you take care of that thing, you'll get what you earn," Savage said.

Under Perkins, Austin has liked to attack teams with a ferocious ground game. This year the Black Bears have a talented duo of junior running backs who, last week, combined for 100 yards rushing. Savage knows in order to win, the Red Raiders will need to slow Austin's rushing attack.

"They want to run the ball and they're very good at it. They're going to try and establish the line of scrimmage, and we're going to have to get out there and compete."

Decatur coaches are 1-2 all-time in their first game vs. Austin, with Earl Webb being the only one to win in 1964. For Savage to make it 2-2, it's going to take a special performance.

"We have to protect the ball, eliminate penalties and execute," Savage said. "We're also going to have to play with a whole bunch of passion."

Austin head coach Perkins

Perkins may be coaching in his 14th River City Rivalry, but he won't be facing a familiar foe. Gone is Jere Adcock, who had coached the Red Raiders since 1995. Austin has just one game of film to see what the Savage era of Decatur football will be like.

"As far as how the program plays, it still looks like the same Decatur we've always played," Perkins said. "They play hard. They're well coached, disciplined and athletic. It's what we see every year from them."

Perkins admitted a lot is different though.

"When you play a certain coaching staff over and over, you get a feel for certain tendencies and styles they have. We don't have those feelings of who's going to do what this time. We're going into it with an unknown."

Austin rotated quarterbacks last week. The plan was successful, with the two combining for over 200 yards passing and three touchdowns.

"The plan hasn't changed. We expect both to play," Perkins said. "If we get down to the wire, we might go with the one that has the hot hand. Both have earned the right to play though."

In last week's game, Decatur showed a fast, up-tempo style of offense. Senior quarterback Bradin Dupper had six touchdowns, four through the air and two on the ground.

"We try to prepare every week for a fast-paced style so we practice fast," Perkins said. "One of the most challenging things in football is going against a quarterback that can throw and run effectively. Luckily, it's not something that's foreign to us."

Decatur had several playmakers shine last week, but one that stood out was senior Wyatt Smith. Smith finished with 31 yards receiving and a touchdown catch in which he withstood a vicious hit in the end zone against Mae Jemison. At 6-foot-6, 187 pounds, the tight end/wide receiver hybrid presents a unique skill set that you don't see often at the high school level.

Fortunately for Austin, the team has its own hybrid star. Senior Nick Crayton stands 6-4, 210 pounds and last week had three catches for 86 yards and two touchdowns.

The Austin defense has spent plenty of time going against their fellow teammate in practice.

"That element of size and speed creates a matchup problem. But when you go against it day in and out like our defense does, it gives you a better understanding of what you have to do to defend it," Perkins said.

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