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5 things to watch: Lakeside at Blytheville

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Lakeside takes to the road this week as the Rams return to the Class 5A state football playoffs for the fourth straight year, taking on the Blytheville Chickasaws.

The Rams (5-5, 4-3 5A-South) enter the tournament as a No. 4 seed, while Blytheville (5-5, 5-2 5A-East) goes in as the top seed from its conference.

Here are five things to watch:

Late momentum

Both teams are entering this week's matchup as unfamiliar opponents, but they are both carrying momentum into Week 11.

The Rams bounced back from their 44-7 Week 9 loss at Little Rock McClellan (8-1, 6-1) to edge perennial rival Hot Springs (1-9, 1-6), 35-32, last week, something head coach Jared McBride said has brought some additional energy to practice this week.

"Our kids were excited about getting that rivalry win and finishing our conference late with a win and having a positive note going into the playoffs," he said. "We've had a good week of practice. The kids are excited about getting that win. In a rivalry game, it doesn't matter the records. Everybody is going to play hard and compete."

Blytheville has two straight wins under its belt with a 41-21 win over Paragould (1-9, 1-6) before last week's 40-0 shutout at Forrest City (4-6, 3-4).

Defense

McBride noted the Chickasaws are a tough opponent.

"They're a very physical team, big and fast," he said. "You can tell why they've won several games this year. They're a good ball club."

Blytheville has allowed 195 points this season, including 41 in its last four wins.

"They're good defensively, on the defensive line," McBride said. "That's going to be a big challenge for our group up front. I know we've seen good groups before, and we'll be ready to play."

Lakeside's defense is averaging 66.2 tackles per game and 10.4 tackles for a loss with Reece Turner leading the team with 91 tackles, including 13 for loss while John Fuller has 76 with a team-leading 21 for loss. Aaron Killian has 75 tackles this season, and Ryan Pelt and Dorecus Ferguson have tallied 11 and 10 tackles for loss, respectively.

Offense

The Chickasaws have put up 302 points on offense this season.

"They've put up big numbers all year," McBride said. "We're going to have to play well to slow them down enough to be able to put up enough points to win."

McBride said Blytheville has a number of top players for his defense to key in on this week. He said senior quarterback Jaheim Carter does a good job of finding open targets while taking advantage of open space.

"They've got a lot of playmakers," he said. "They do a good job of spreading the ball around. Their quarterback definitely makes their offense go. He's a good passer but a good runner also. He spreads the ball around across the field, so we're going to have to be able to cover the whole field to stop their playmakers."

Lakeside own senior quarterback, Taylor Gillham, has completed 115 of 209 passes for 1,811 yards and 10 touchdowns. Sophomore running back Isaac Echols has dominated the ground game with 152 carries for 1,297 yards and 10 scores, including six century games. Senior Sawyer Lamb leads the team's receiving corps with 48 catches for 801 yards and six touchdowns.

Playoff return

The Rams are no stranger to the playoffs, although it has been several years since they have advanced beyond the first round. Blytheville, on the other hand, enters the game for its first appearance since the 2016 season and the first time to host a game since 2007.

"It doesn't really affect this team," McBride said. "I think that they'll be ready to play. I don't think it has anything to do with how long it's been since they've been there or their record the last few years. I think that it's more about this group versus this group, and I know that they'll be ready to play."

Injuries

Plagued by injuries all season, the Rams still have several athletes sidelined again this week due to injuries. Despite this, McBride said he is confident in the performance of the team, since his current group of starters has had several weeks together.

"We'll have the same crew out that we had last week," he said. "We've still got seven that aren't playing, but we'll still have the same crew that we've played with the past few weeks."

Week 11

Other matchups this week include 6-Lake Hamilton (5-5, 3-5 6A-West) at 3-Jonesboro (6-4, 5-2 6A-West), 5-Fountain Lake (6-4, 3-4 4A-7) at 1-Rivercrest (9-1, 6-1 4A-3), 3-Gosnell (6-4, 5-2 4A-3) at 3-Arkadelphia (5-5, 5-2 4A-7), 4-Centerpoint (6-4, 4-3 3A-5) at 2-Newport (8-2, 6-1 3A-3), 4-Bearden (3-6, 2-3 2A-8) at 3-Mount Ida (8-2, 5-2 2A-7), 4-Hackett (4-5, 3-3 2A-4) at 2-Mountain Pine (7-3, 6-1 2A-5) and 4-Magnet Cove (5-5, 4-3 2A-5) at 2-Des Arc (6-3, 5-1 2A-6).

Sports on 11/08/2018

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