In the first five games of his varsity career, Francis Howell Central sophomore Brad Bira has been on the receiving end of two long touchdown passes from senior quarterback Johnnie Collins.
Tonight, Bira will be the one throwing to receivers.
“(Bira) throws the ball extremely well,” said Spartans coach Todd Berck. “He’s worked hard all week and we expect him to do well for us.”
Collins will not play tonight against Rock Bridge, the coach said. Berck would not elaborate on Collins’ absence. Collins leads his team with 11 rushing touchdowns and more than 900 yards on the ground in just five games this season. Collins has also passed for five touchdowns in the same time span.
The Rock Bridge coaching staff spent Monday afternoon introducing their players to a revised game plan to help them stop the run, a feat the Bruins have not accomplished lately.
Rock Bridge defensive coordinator Justin Conyers said knowing how to stop the run can be the difference between a successful team and an unsuccessful team. His team’s recent failure to prevent
teams from piling up rushing yards has been what he called “embarrassing.”
Over the past three weeks, the Rock Bridge defense has given up more than 1,000 rushing yards combined against Liberty, Hannibal and Webb City.
As a result, a loss tonight against the Spartans would drop the Bruins to 3-3.
“The pressure’s on even more now,” Conyers said. “Those games are still dwelling upon on us now. Regardless of who we are playing, we’re gonna get better facing the run.”
Rock Bridge coach A.J. Ofodile said tonight’s game will be good for his team, especially since Francis Howell Central typically provides a legitimate, explosive running attack.
“I don’t think it does us any good to play a team that can’t run, stop the run and beat our chests and say ‘Wow, look at us,’ ” he said. “We need to play somebody that can run, be successful and build some confidence from there.”
Without Collins, the Spartan’s running game could be a little less explosive. But sophomore running back Mike Brazzle is expected to pick up the slack.
Brazzle rushed for three touchdowns against Troy Buchanan High School last week, leading his team to a 48-7 victory. He had scoring runs of 9, 6 and 10 yards.
Conyers said to stop guys like Brazzle, the Bruins will need to fix the defensive problems where they begin.
“We need to start handling the line of scrimmage up front first of all with our defensive line in order to free up our linebackers and let them make the plays,” he said.
One of those linebackers is senior Demond Thorpe, who stepped up and made several big tackles late in the game against Webb City to prevent more damage to his team’s confidence. He said a talk with his coach helped him play with that intensity.
“(We) talked right before the second half started,” Thorpe said. “He basically told me it’s about time to quit messing around and get my game on.”
Conyers said his defense had steered off course and needed to get back to the basics this week.
“They see that we’re not stopping the run, so now they start reverting back to ways that we have not taught them,” he said. “They go away from what we teach at practice and they start trying to do their own thing, and it makes it a little bit tougher. Now they’re not making the reads they should and we’re missing a lot of tackles.”
Conyers also said a lack of confidence has contributed to the defensive struggles, but Thorpe said his team will find that confidence.
“I know we’re gonna find it before Friday,” he said. “We can’t afford not to.”