By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
Melrose will be making its fourth trip in two years to Tatum on Saturday for a six-man quarterfinal playoff game at noon.
One of those contests was for the 2003 championship, with Tatum taking the title.
Until just under a week ago, Melrose (8-1) was favorite to win the title, but Floyd changed that outlook last week, handing the Buffaloes their first loss of year and stealing the District 3A title.
Tatum (4-4) meanwhile beat Gateway Christian in a mild surprise to earn the right to host a quarterfinal playoff game.
Melrose defeated Tatum 58-14 in an earlier meeting this season. But Melrose coach Dickie Roybal said the Coyotes look like a different team.
“I watched them last week play Gateway and they have made a lot of improvement,” Roybal said.
Coyotes coach Jarrod Sowder agrees.
“We’re playing a lot like we did last year — we had five different players who scored last week,” Sowder said.
Alberto Castro and Obie Palacios are the primary weapons out of the Coyotes’ backfield. But Castro’s younger freshman brother Alex also had a field day in Tatum’s last game — scoring four touchdowns.
“They pretty much run the backfield, but I don’t want to take anything away from the other guys,” Sowder said.
Melrose has a few worries this week.
Carlos Ruiz, who ran for 171 yards against Floyd, broke his finger in the game but Roybal expects his star running back to play. His bigger worry is that starting signal-caller Brock Graham and center Caleb Dodd have been at a national FFA event in Louisville and are expected to return to Melrose late Friday night.
But Roybal believes James Walker at quarterback and freshman Lonnie Clark at center can step in and be effective.
“They (Graham and Dodd) will be back, but it’s going to be tough for them. These other guys have been practicing all week, so I think we’ll be alright,” Roybal said.