Lackey makes sure the mood isn't light

Michael Holahan/Staff
Laney and Strom Thurmond began playing one another in 2004. The Rebels have won two of the three meetings, although the Wildcats pulled out a 21-15 victory last year.

The Thursday practice is supposed to be a light day at Laney.

Not this week. Not with Strom Thurmond coming to town.

"Little bit more preparation for these guys," Laney coach Lemuel Lackey said. "We're trying to make sure we cross our T's and dot all our I's. Make sure all things are in order. Our kids have worked hard this week. No sense in slacking up on working hard on Thursday."

The Wildcats (1-0) finished drills shortly before 6 p.m. on Thursday. Sort of. After the team broke for the lockers, quarterback Kwame Cunningham and his receivers stayed late working on timing and sharpening routes.

It is a sign of respect. Lackey was impressed with the changes Strom Thurmond made from a tough 28-17 loss at North Augusta. It seemed like Strom Thurmond (1-1) made every needed correction to roll to a 41-13 win against Batesburg-Leesville last Friday.

Lackey said his team is "walking into the eye of the storm" this week after breezing by Butler.

"Strom is a good team and they are well-coached," Lackey said. "That's a team and a staff that knows how to win. You've got to play your best. Otherwise they will make it a hard night for you."

Strom Thurmond coach Lee Sawyer has said his Rebels didn't play a team last year that was as fast and physical as Laney. Lackey said Strom Thurmond would be a playoff team even if it played in a Georgia region.

There's no game in the area that pairs up quality athletes and coaches in a thrilling balance of two teams that can both run and pass squaring off against two tough defenses.

The teams began playing one another in 2004. Strom Thurmond lost a 21-0 lead but held on for a 35-28 win despite 27 third-quarter points and 650 combined passing yards and 850 combined yards of offense. The Rebels stormed back from a 14-0 deficit for a 34-14 win during their state title year in 2005.

Last year's game was a 21-15 classic won by Laney, where the defenses rose up to smite each offense.

"There is respect from both sides because both teams can do everything well," Strom Thurmond quarterback Aramis Hillary said. "Both teams run and throw and both can really play defense."

Lackey and Sawyer both expect the series to continue. It has a natural peg each year. Laney and Strom Thurmond always play the day before the Georgia-South Carolina college matchup.

"We like it because it gives us a big dose of big-game atmosphere," Sawyer said. "There's a buzz for this game. All the media comes around. The stands are packed. The crowds are electric. Just like the playoffs. It's been nothing but a good rivalry for us and I'm pretty sure Laney can say the same."

Laney senior tackle Theodore McNeal is a veteran of all three meetings. He's the only player on the field tonight that can say that.

"I tell my guys they are going to make plays," McNeal said. "But I say we are going to make plays, too. They will hit us in the mouth and we will have to hit them right back even harder."

"I like playing them. You find out early what kind of team you have by playing in this game."

Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or jeff.sentell@augustachronicle.com.

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