Vols face stiff challenge against Raiders

There are no Vegas lines for high school sporting events, but if there were, it's safe to say Starkville Academy would be considered the underdog in tonight's home matchup against Jackson Academy.
The Raiders (4-0) are fresh off of a AAA-I state championship season. They are undefeated this year. Last week, facing the only opponent that beat them in 2009, JA rolled through Madison-Ridgeland Academy 38-14.
Conversely, SA's recent history is well documented. Despite fielding a much-improved team, the Volunteers are 0-4 this year. They haven't won a game since 2008.
It's reasons like these that make SA head coach Jeff Terrill turn a blind eye to the Raiders' recent success.
Knowing there is nothing he can do about the past, Terrill has chosen to focus on his team only to prepare for tonight's challenge.
"You look at the plight of both programs right now, they're the defending champs and we're winless," said Terrill. "So I think we've just tried to focus more on ourselves than we have them. We don't want to have an attitude that we can't beat them, so we'll just want to go out (tonight) and play the best that we can."
In spite of the efforts of the SA staff, Terrill knows his team isn't unaware of JA's reputation.
"It's something that is on the back of your mind," said Terrill. "It would not be truthful to say otherwise. That's where you just have to focus on yourself, because you can't control all that. JA is JA. They've got a great program with a lot of good players that are doing a great job and they're on a roll. So what we've got to do is raise our game and be as good as we can. That's all we can control."
As the Vols attempt to perfect their own game, they remain aware of Jackson Academy's pool of talent. According to Terrill, the Raiders are solid in all aspects of the game, but particularly excel in their power-running game.
In addition, SA's first-year coach has seen that JA has plenty of size on defense and even shines on special teams, an area that many high school teams struggle with.
"There is not a weakness, that's for sure," said Terrill.
Facing such an uphill battle against a team like JA seems like it would be enough to dishearten a team like SA, who has already come up short in several close contests this season.
Yet Terrill says his team doesn't seem to be feeling too much heat for not notching a win yet. Instead, it's the Vols' leader who is carrying the burden.
"I'm going to do my very best not to let the kids feel any pressure," said Terrill. "To be honest with you, I probably do (feel it). I really felt that when we got to this point, we would have a win, and I'm disappointed that we don't. But I think the kids have given the effort that they could have had at least one. So we just keep reminding the team that we knew it was going to be tough. They can't give up on what they're doing and the commitments they've made. They'll see victory if they keep doing that."
Tonight's game with JA kicks off at 7 p.m.