First-year Jeffersonville coach Isaac Parker barely hesitated when asked to recall the Red Devils’ record against archrival New Albany during his playing days in the late 1990s.
“Four and oh baby, 4-0,” Parker remembered after practice Thursday evening.
Parker, a 2000 Jeff High graduate, played for the Red Devils during the 1996, ‘97, ‘98 and ‘99 seasons.
“It was great ball games, a lot of fire, a lot of spirit,” said Parker, who was a lineman back in those days.
The same is expected tonight when the Bulldogs (1-1) meet Jeff (0-2) at 7 p.m. at Blair Field. This time, though, it’s New Albany’s seniors who are looking to improve to 4-0 against against their rivals.
It’s a streak the eldest Red Devils hope to end.
“[A win] would mean a lot,” Jeff senior strong safety Devaca Parks said.
Although the Bulldogs have won three consecutive games against the Red Devils, the two teams have split the past 24 regular-season meetings.
“No matter how different the level of talent is, it always seems to balance out in those games,” said Parker, who was an assistant the past four seasons before taking over as the head coach. “You always seem to see a good fight. We’re looking forward to a good game.”
So is third-year New Albany coach Steve Cooley, who has his own unique perspective on the matchup. He coached at Jeff for a decade, going 53-55 from 2000-2009. Cooley went 3-7 against New Albany when he was at Jeff, but is 2-0 against the Red Devils since taking over as the Bulldogs’ head man.
“My first year [at New Albany] I was still teaching at Jeff,” Cooley recalled. “I’m teaching AP History during the day and I’ve got kids sitting in my class that I’ve got to coach against that night, so that was kind of a different environment, a different feeling.”
This matchup will also have a different feeling because it’s being played earlier in the season than in years past due to a change in the Hoosier Hills Conference scheduling process.
“The HHC has a big-school component and a small-school component, the big schools all play each other early and the small schools all play each other,” Cooley said. “It’s like that for another year.”
Regardless of the change, both coaches expect a close, competitive game tonight.
“Coach Cooley’s a good football coach, he’s going to coach that team up. They’re going to be well-coached, we know that,” Parker said. “They’re going to match us in athleticism. It’s going to be, I’m hoping, a very good football game.”
“Coach Parker’s done a nice job there,” Cooley added. “They’ve got tons of talent. They’ve got the fastest kids around. [Shaun] Wimberly’s back at quarterback, he can sling it 50 yards down the field. They’ve got fast guys on the outside. Their offensive line is bigger than us, their defensive line is bigger than us. For us, they’re going to have the size advantage and the speed advantage, so that’s never good coming in.”
Both teams are coming in off losses.
The Bulldogs, who beat Evansville Harrison 26-6 in their opener, lost 43-6 at Castle last Friday.
“Field position was crucial,” Cooley said. “We tried to sell all week to our kids on how important field position is. They started four drives inside our 20-yard line. A lot of that was because of punts, the operation of the punt. ... They were better than us, but easily the game should’ve probably been 28-14. But we gave them 28 points based upon field position.”
New Albany didn’t walk away unscathed.
“We got a lot of injuries last week at Castle,” Cooley said. “We might be down three starters, but the next man’s got to step up and play.”
The Red Devils, meanwhile, lost 25-6 to Fern Creek (Ky.) in their season-opener before falling 28-21 to Seymour last Friday.
“In Week 1 we had 85 yards of offense. Our defense played great, but they were on the field for 32 and a half minutes, we can’t do that,” Parker said. “Then we turn around the next week and we get 400 yards of offense. We scored a little too fast at times, or had big plays a little too fast at times, or early turnovers, so [the defense] was on the field for 29 and a half minutes. ... We’ve got to try to get them a break, we’ve got to sustain drives. Of course we’ll take quick scores, but our goal is to keep them off the field as much as we can.”
For all of the success the Red Devils had against the Bulldogs during his playing days, though, Parker didn’t share that with his team this week.
“I didn’t even pass that on,” he said.
So what did he tell his players heading into tonight’s showdown?
“Maintain your composure, get out there and play good, fun, physical football,” he said.