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September 14, 2011
Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
Cincinnati (Ohio) St. Xavier head coach Steve Specht has seen a lot of great teams in his time with the Bombers. Some of those teams were his - a No. 2 national finish in the Rivals rankings in 2007, for example - while some have been on the opposing sideline.
When Specht, and the No. 19-ranked St. Xavier Bombers take the field against the No. 4 Louisville (Ky.) Trinity Shamrocks Friday night, it will be another such example.
It also will be the RivalsHigh National Game of the Week.
"Our last two games were great tune-ups for this," Specht said. "They were battles really, but Trinity is the best team we have seen to date."
St. X will have played three ranked teams in the last 12 days. After beating Pickerington (Ohio) Central, 38-21, on Sept. 4 and Cincinnati (Ohio) Colerain, 17-14, on Sept. 9, it is now gearing up for Trinity.
"Week in and week out, we look to play the best competition at St. X," Specht said. "Our goal is to get our kids 10 games a year, and it is hard to do. Many times we have to play anyone, anywhere. We will be prepared for this game because we have been in this situation before."
The Bombers are 3-1 in the last four contests with Trinity, winning the last two years by a combined score of 60-23. St. X's lone loss in the series was in 2008, a year that St. X went 4-6 and only scored 128 total points after being ravaged with injuries early in the year.
It is the familiarity with Trinity that has Specht confident entering this contest.
"Schematically this is the same Trinity team," he said. "They have a system in place that works for them so schematically they are no different than we have seen from them.
"But they have some really explosive players plugged in this time."
Quarterback Travis Wright needs just five more touchdown passes to become the fourth player in program history with 50 touchdowns. He is completing 79.2 percent of his passes through three games and has a 72.7 career completion percentage - which would be the best in the history of Kentucky if he continues at this rate.
Wright, by the way, is just a junior - but one that already has led the team to a state title.
Receiver James Quick needs just 281 receiving yards to break the school record for receiving yards - 2,310 set by TaShawn McBroom. Entering this game, Quick has caught 23 passes for 443 yards and seven touchdowns. He already has 25 career touchdown receptions; he caught 88 passes for 1,114 yards last season.
Quick also is a junior - one that could prove to be the best receiving prospect in the history of the state.
The running game is not to be outdone. Last week against Cincinnati (Ohio) Elder, Trinity set a new school record with 407 yards rushing in a 56-7 victory. The points against were two shy from the worst loss in the history of Elder.
Its two-headed punch of Dalyn Dawkins, another junior skill player, and senior Garrett Sauer are averaging 7.5 and 11.4 yards per carry respectively - and doing it behind an offensive line that has five senior starters. They have allowed only three total sacks in the team's last seven games.
For all of the offensive stats that Trinity can trumpet, St. X can combat with a history of strong defensive performances.
It will be that calling card that Specht will need to have ready to dial up.
"I don't think we can stop them," he said. "They are so explosive that we need to just slow them down and make a few stops. We have to get off the field and control the clock.
"We have to eliminate turnovers. Pretty much all of the clich? we have to do that."
In this game maybe more than any others.
Trinity has converted on 19-of-26 third down plays, allowing for extended drives.
It has forced five turnovers, returning one interception for a touchdown and scoring touchdowns on three others, while running out the clock in the fourth quarter on the other.
"It is bad news for us that we are 3-0 but still negative in the turnovers," Specht said. "That isn't something that makes me too happy
"With their offense, it is tough to say what we would need to have happen, maybe 56 points."
While the Bombers are not ones to score that many points - the team has only broken 50 points one time in the last five years, and it was the first game of the 2006 season - it has had plenty of success against Trinity.
In 2007, the highest-scoring game for St. X was the 47 points it scored on Trinity. In 2009, the 43 points the Bombers put on the board versus the team from Louisville were its season high, too.
This year, like the last three, Trinity will need to contain St. X running back Conor Hundley.
Hundley is a two-time Greater Catholic League First Team running back; he was an all-state back last season as a junior.
"He is our work horse," Specht said. "He is a 205-pound hammer. We don't get fancy with the play calls, just let him get in there and pound it.
"He likes it that way. The first guy isn't going to bring him down."
The Shamrocks defense will have to keep up with the back and get St. X off the field if it plans to make the next step to the national elite.
For St. X, while this game is big, it is not the reputation-building effort that Trinity needs.
"We are trying to get better each week," Specht said. "We have to be ready for an intense playoff bracket. We are learning our identity still."
Meanwhile, if Trinity leaves Ohio with a 1-4 record against the Bombers, its identity will be well established: a good team from a non-power state that couldn't get over the hump.