By Jeffery Armstrong
Only three miles separate the Jonesboro High Cardinals from the Mt. Zion High Bulldogs.
If you ask Mt. Zion head coach Jackie Green, Jonesboro represents his team's real county rival instead of the Lovejoy Wildcats, even though Mt. Zion and Lovejoy opened their doors around the same time.
"People like to say we're big rivals with Lovejoy, but I don't see it," Green said. "I will always say that Jonesboro is our biggest rival. They and Morrow are the closest schools to us and we've had some good games with Jonesboro."
In fact, Green has somewhat of a personal vendetta against Jonesboro. The Bulldogs had won their first three games of the 2002 season and faced the Cardinals in week four that year. They expected to beat Jonesboro, but the Cardinals upended them 17-6 en route to a state playoff berth. Mt. Zion lost four of the next six games and didn't qualify for postseason play.
"The loss to Jonesboro that year knocked us out of playoff contention," Green said.
Green has some standouts on offense n tailback Rashad Cunningham leads the team with four touchdowns and fullback Aubrey Dorsey (148 yards rushing against Mundy's Mill) is their leading rusher. Even though Mt. Zion has good offensive players, Green said he's concerned about the Cardinals defense.
"They've really got good defensive players, especially [linebacker] Rocky Lee in the middle and the two big defensive linemen," said Green. "We have good athletes at the running back position, but not like we had last year. It should be a low-scoring game."
Green said he's also worried about Jonesboro's kicking game, a huge advantage for the Cardinals. Jonesboro kicker Patrick Saxby is deadly on punts and kickoffs and he's a pretty accurate field-goal kicker as well.
"Field position will be very crucial in this game and Patrick is a good asset for us in that category," said Jonesboro head coach Larry Mortonson. "If we are to have any chance at all against Mt. Zion, we've got to pin them deep in their territory. We can't give them a short field."
Mortonson said he's pleased with the effort his team has given in their two games, especially on the defensive side.
"The defense has been carrying us for these two games, but I'm not upset with our offense," he said. "They have a year with a new offense under their belt. Typically, the offense is a bit behind early. They should catch up with the defense soon."
Mortonson said another player who has been playing well besides Saxby and Lee is first-year quarterback Daniel Cazenave. The senior also plays strong safety and the second-year coach said he's been doing a great job.
"I'm very impressed with his ability at the quarterback position," Mortonson said. "He's picked things up very well."