November 15, 2009 12:36:00 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Bradley seldom is speechless when he talks about football.
But the nature of his team''s come-from-behind 34-33 victory against Callaway on Friday night in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North Half State playoffs had the fourth-year coach searching for words.
When Bradley got going, though, his words did the game -- and his players -- justice.
"We had every opportunity to quit," Bradley said. "When they got up on us two scores there in the fourth quarter it looked pretty bad. It looked pretty bleak. I told the guys in the huddle before we went out for the first possession after they scored to make it a 12-point game that we need two scores, but before we can get two scores we need one score. They didn''t doubt. They bought right in, just like everything else we have tried to tell them the past four years."
Devonte Wright (19 carries, 166 yards) capped a 19-point surge with an 8-yard touchdown that gave Callaway (8-4) as 33-21 lead with 11 minutes, 17 seconds to play.
But big play after big play ensued for the Trojans (10-1). Frank Richardson Jr. scored on a 7-yard run on fourth-and-2 with just under eight minutes to go. Tanner Ryals, who hit all four of his extra points, converted the kick to make it 33-28 with 7:54 to go.
New Hope senior offensive lineman Ryan Hollivay then gave teammates Curtis Shirley, Seth Stillman, and Terrance Payne a pep talk before the defense took the field. The message was simple: Get us the ball back.
"I told them all we needed is one more stop and we were going to drive down and score no matter what," Hollivay said. "We had God on our side the whole game. We never gave up. That is why I love this team so much. We have beautiful leadership."
Callaway gained one first down on its next drive, but a penalty, a 2-yard loss by Wright, and a 10-yard loss off a fumbled snap and a kicked ball by quarterback Mark Thigpen forced the Chargers to punt.
Junior quarterback Zak Thrasher and running back Johnny Beamon proved to be a tough tandem to beat on the eight-play, 93-yard drive that won the game. Thrasher (13 of 22, 170 yards) completed two passes to Hunter Sims and two more to Beamon. On the second pass to Beamon, he gathered his 5-foot-7 frame and went high into the air to snag a touch pass from Thrasher over the middle. He took a hit from several defender when he came down but he hung on to the football.
"I stood up straight went up and caught the ball," Beamon said. "I saw five guys coming at me full speed. I was going to do anything I could to get me to Jackson, and that''s what I had to do."
Said Bradley, "Johnny is 5-7 and 5-6 1/2 of it is heart. He is one of the toughest kids I have coached. He works so hard, and I am so happy
for him that he was able to make a play like that."
A roughing the passer call added 15 yards to the gain and gave the Trojans a first down at the Chargers'' 19. Two rushes by Terrance Dentry (21 carries, 121 yards) set up Richardson Jr., who broke a tackle at the 6 and scored on a 12-yard run to give New Hope a 34-33 lead with 1:47 to go. The Trojans failed on their two-point conversion pass.
"We didn''t think we were going to score that fast," Thrasher said. "We knew we were going to score and that we were going to win this game. The receivers got open and made good plays. It was just great."
Wright''s 37-yard return on the ensuing kickoff dampened the Trojans'' spirits. With a first-and-10 from their 46, Callaway needed only three first downs to get into field goal range.
The Chargers got one and had a first down at the Trojans'' 35 with 56.9 seconds before the defense rose to the occasion.
After an incompletion on first down, Thigpen (9 of 18, 215 yards) hit Denzel Knight with a 5-yard pass for a third-and-5 from the 30.
New Hope''s Jo Jo Reeves might have saved the season on the next play, corralling Thigpen after a 4-yard gain to set up a fourth-and-1 from the 26.
Without any timeouts and the clock running, Callaway didn''t have time to get its field goal team on the field. Thigpen took the snap and then was hit from behind by Reeves.
The 2-yard loss set off a wild celebration and caused Bradley to jump into the arms of one of his assistant coaches.
Reeves said he didn''t do anything special on his final two tackles.
"We were playing full speed like we practice," Reeves said. "I saw him step up and I just grabbed him (on third down).
"(On fourth down) I came around the edge and they didn''t block me, so I saw him and grabbed him and that was it."
Callaway coach Daryl Jones, who coached at Columbus High in 2006-07, said it was a shame someone had to lose such a tremendous football game.
Jones said Thigpen slipped a little and didn''t handle the snap cleanly on third down. On fourth down, he said things happened a little too quickly with the clock running to make something happen.
"I hate he had to end his high school career on that type of play," Jones said.
Jones also credited Beamon for rising to the challenge and making the biggest play of the final drive.
Bradley had plenty of praise to hand out after a few moments of silence. He complimented Jones for his work in his first year at Callaway. He praised Thrasher for showing poise on the final drive. He praised the special teams work of Richardson Jr., who dove in and blocked an extra-point attempt by Matthew Jacobs that allowed New Hope to cling to a 21-20 lead in the third quarter,
But Bradley saved his highest praise for all of his players.
"The defense did their job, we drove down the field and scored again, and our defense held them again," Bradley said. "I can''t say enough about our team and about our coaches. This is a great win for our team and our program. It is a testament to the character of our team."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.