Posted October 19, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

High-powered Colonels a test for R-MA

Massanutten Military Academy quarterback Kenya Ray-Abrams leads the Colonels into today’s Patriot Conference matchup against R-MA. Rich Cooley/Daily file

By Brad Fauber

It's been years since Massanutten Military Academy and Randolph-Macon Academy last squared off on the football field, but that doesn't mean the two teams don't know what to expect when they meet in Front Royal today.

Both sides will have something to play for when the game kicks off at 2 p.m., and neither team is expecting a win to come easy.

Today is the Homecoming game for R-MA, and the Yellow Jackets will no doubt look to bounce back from a disappointing loss to Hargrave Academy last weekend with a big win this afternoon.

MMA has its sights set on a playoff berth, and a win against R-MA is a near-necessity in order to make that goal a reality. The Yellow Jackets will be looking to squash those hopes when the two teams take the field.

"They're very athletic, they're going to make plays," said R-MA junior running back Kevin Slaton. "It's all about how we respond. We've got to prepare to play probably the most athletic team we've played all year, so we've got go into the game knowing that they're going to make plays and we've just got to come back and make plays, too."

On offense, both teams are practically polar opposites.

R-MA (3-4) runs the wing-T offense, and will use four different ball carriers in a very run-heavy option attack. The Yellow Jackets are led by senior Andre Lake, who has carried the ball 75 times for 617 yards and nine touchdowns this season.

Slaton has added 421 yards and four scores on the ground, and quarterback Ryan Pile has more than 250 yards rushing.

MMA (3-4) has seen the wing-T offense already this season against Fredericksburg Christian on Sept. 28 -- a game the Colonels lost 61-20 -- and MMA coach Chris Gilliland is expecting a challenge when it comes to slowing R-MA's ground game.

"They're very difficult to stop. It's tough to be able to contain a triple-option or wing-T-style offense in one week, but it's something we've got to do," Gilliland said. "I think we've done a pretty good job this week, at least getting the kids prepared for it. So, we'll see what happens."

R-MA will also have its hands full when on the defensive side of the football, but the Yellow Jackets' primary concern won't be with the Colonels' running game, although MMA certainly can move the ball on the ground when it needs to.

The Colonels have made a transition from the triple-option attack they had run in past seasons to a spread-style offense.

Senior quarterback Kenya Ray-Abrams is the leader of MMA's offense, as he has thrown for 1,762 yards and 16 touchdowns this season. Ray-Abrams also leads the Colonels in rushing, carrying for 433 yards and three scores.

"It's difficult from a mindset standpoint because you have to stop two things," said Yellow Jackets coach Frank Sullivan. "If [Ray-Abrams] was just a thrower, we could rush the passer and kind of do our thing. But here we're sort of being careful, staying in our rush lanes, which sometimes affects how hard the kids are rushing."

A key to containing MMA's passing attack will be whether or not the Yellow Jackets can limit the play-making ability of Ray-Abrams' top target, junior receiver Travis Fulgham.

Fulgham has been virtually unstoppable this season, catching 44 passes for 1,146 yards and nine touchdowns.

Sullivan said he doesn't expect the Yellow Jackets to prevent Fulgham from getting his hands on the football, only to limit what he does once he catches the ball.

"There's nothing that we really have to change in our defense just for that one guy," said Lake, who also plays cornerback for the Yellow Jackets. "We're going to stay to our game and play our game, and focus on what we have to do rather than having them change our mentality."

MMA finds itself in a must-win situation if the Colonels expect to make the playoffs this season. The Colonels are currently ranked fourth in the VISAA Division IV ratings, and Gilliland said he has been preaching to his players the importance of winning their final three games.

"It's one of our biggest games of the season," Fulgham said of today's game. "We're 3-4 right now, and if we want to make it to the playoffs we have to win this game."

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com

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