OAKLAND — There was a look in AJ Weaver’s eyes as he talked about his No. 9-ranked Oakland Oakers’ Class 2A state quarterfinal matchup against No. 1 Kennedy.
When speaking of the defending state champion Trojans, he was almost nonplussed.
“It comes down to who’s the tougher team, who has more heart,” the senior guard said.
Saturday on the artificial turf of Silverton Middle School, the Oakers plan to find out. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.
Weaver is part of an offensive line grouping which has paved the way for more than 3,200 rushing yards this season. He and his trenchmates hope to keep that momentum flowing for at least one more week.
Oakland (8-2) is in the quarterfinals for the sixth time this decade, and will take on a younger — although top-seeded — Kennedy squad who the Oakers feel they match up very well in the trenches.
The Oakers’ Corbin Picknell crossed the 2,000-yard plateau in last week’s first round win at Glide. Wil Powell has added 700 more yards, and Jayden Henry has accounted for 500, in large part to Oakland’s strength up front.
“I think we match up with them really well,” senior center Ronan Allen said. “With our experience we’ve been gathering all year, we have a good matchup on our hands.”
The Oakers’ offensive front includes a rotation of Weaver, Allen, senior guard Austin VanHouten, junior tackle Brayden Tackett, junior Ross Graves, and sophomores Jesse Parker and Ben Paschall.
“This is one of those games that we could win by 28, or we could lose by 50,” head coach Ben Lane said. “It just depends on if our guys show up ready to go.”
Oakland will welcome the return of Graves, who was lost to a knee injury in the Oakers’ 48-0 home loss to Monroe.
Graves, who was cleared Thursday to compete in Saturday’s playoff game, is looking forward to joining his friends in the trenches once again.
“It’s one of the best days this year, honestly,” he said of the news.
While the Trojans (8-1) start two freshmen among their defensive line contingent, Lane feels the key is being able to counter Kennedy’s ability to rotate in fresh bodies due to their depth up front.
“I like the matchup up front,” Lane said. “They might be a little bigger, but I think we’re more athletic. They’re a little younger, but defensively they have a lot of kids to rotate in.”
“It just comes down to who has more audacity to play, more will,” Weaver said.
Defensively, the Oakers will square off up front with junior guard Camryn Biegel and junior center Cole Boen. Biegel was named the top lineman in Special District 2, while Boen was voted first-team both as an offensive lineman and linebacker. They pave the way for SD2 Offensive Player of the Year Bruce Beyer, a senior who ran for 700 yards and 10 touchdowns in district play.
“Up front, we need to be physical because they outweigh us at every position,” Allen said. “We just need to take care of our jobs.”
Of course, having the protection of linebackers Powell, who has recorded a whopping 121 tackles on the season, Henry (79 tackles) and sophomore Baker Brooksby (65 tackles) gives the defensive front some needed protection.
“On a play that I can’t get through, it’s real nice to count on those guys behind you,” Graves said.
Offensively, the Oakers hope to give Picknell and Co. just enough room to put some doubt in the heads of the opposition.
“It’s a beautiful sight,” Graves said of seeing the back of Picknell’s No. 20 jersey in the open field. “There’s no better feeling than having him go off for 70 yards and chasing him down to celebrate with him.”