Luke Fondren

Pillow Academy senior running back Luke Fondren dives for the end zone, scoring one of his  two touchdowns last Friday in a 42-7 thrashing of Magnolia Heights. PA heads to Pelahatchie Friday night in search of its fourth straight win.

Win or lose in Friday’s regular-season finale, Pillow Academy’s postseason fate is set.

The Mustangs wrapped up a first-round bye in the playoffs last week by winning the North AAAA, Division II title with a 42-7 rout of Magnolia Heights. Now Pillow is hoping to add to its three-game win streak so it will have momentum heading into the postseason.

The Mustangs (4-5) will have to go through a struggling East Rankin team Friday night in Pelahatchie to do that. The Patriots (4-6), losers of five straight, need a win against PA to make sure it remains in the playoff picture.

“We are playing our best football of the season right now so obviously we want to keep that going,” PA coach Tripp McCarty said. “It’s also an important game when you realize we won’t play again for 14 days. We don’t want to sit on a loss that long. East Rankin will have our full attention.”

The Patriots have been outscored by an average of 24 points during their losing skid. McCarty said some of East Rankin’s woes are related to a rash of injuries.

“They have had the injury bug hit them so we are not sure what to expect from them. When you aren’t sure what to get ready for there is always a little uneasiness,” said the fourth-year Mustang coach. “We do know they are a run-heavy team that makes you play assignment football. They also have a really good receiver who can go up and get the 50-50 balls.”

Both teams have wins over Washington School, with Pillow beating the Generals 28-14 two weeks ago and the Patriots winning 35-28 on Sept. 1.

In Pillow’s three consecutive victories, it is averaging 44.6 points per contest while allowing just seven. The maturation of a young PA team that starts numerous sophomores is directly related to better work in practice, according to the coach.

“Our guys have been practicing like they are on a mission. I am a big practice guy. We as coaches feel like we’re getting much more of practice in less time,” he said. “It also helps that our speed on both sides of the ball is finally showing up and that we’ve cut down on our mistakes.”

Big plays have been the name of the game for the Mustangs as of late. They’ve shown quick-strike ability by air and ground in the last three games — with only two of their 18 touchdown drives taking more than five plays. Seven scoring strikes have ranged from 36 to 73 yards, while four TD runs have been between 28 and 63 yards.  

The development of sophomore quarterback Shane Houston Stephens and the improved play of his offensive line has led to the big plays in the passing game. Stephens has completed 14-of-26 passes (54 percent) in the last three outings for 512 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions.

Stephens has also benefited from some nifty grabs from sophomore Jaden Simcox and seniors Eli Burton and Bailey Vaughan at receiver.

“Shane Houston is a heady player. We are fortunate at that position to have him and Lake (Giachelli), but my hats off to the guys protecting them and our guys out wide who have done a great job getting more separation. Once they get the ball, they know what to do with it,” McCarty said.  

nContact Bill Burrus at 581-7237 or bburrus@gwcommonwealth.com.

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