October 23, 2010 11:31:00 PM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
Franklin Richardson Jr. insists he won''t go out for the New Hope High School boys basketball team this year.
Coach Drew McBrayer might want to lobby Richardson Jr. to reconsider after watching him show off his leaping ability with the game on the line.
The New Hope High football team needed every inch of Richardson Jr.''s vertical and each one of his game-breaking plays Friday night to deliver an improbable comeback.
Trailing by two scores with less than five minutes to play in the game, the Trojans scored one touchdown, delivered a fourth-down stand, and then scored again to push the game into overtime.
Richardson Jr. shined there, too, scoring the go-ahead touchdown and then defending the final play that led to an interception that sealed a 36-29 double-overtime victory against Clarksdale in a Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A, Region 1 game at Trojan Field.
"I was trying to bat it down," Richardson Jr. said. "I didn''t know (Curtis Shirley was behind him to make the play), but I am glad he did. It gave us the win."
The victory helped New Hope (6-3, 4-1 region) secure a playoff spot. New Hope can wrap up the No. 2 seed in the region at 7 p.m. Friday with a win at Hernando. That victory would give the Trojans a home playoff game in the opening round.
All of those things seemed far from reach when New Hope took over with 4 minutes, 12 seconds trailing 22-8.
But just like it did last season in playoff victories against Callaway and Ridgeland, New Hope raised its play to another level and erased a game packed with a host of missed opportunities.
"Clarksdale played very hard and took it to us for three quarters and eight minutes," New Hope coach Michael Bradley said. "I was real proud my kids didn''t quit. I was real proud when everything seemed to be going against us, when the world seemed to be spinning contrary to what it is supposed to be, our kids finally made some plays, got some breaks, were able to tie the game, and win it in overtime."
New Hope learned the lesson on a night it welcomed senior running back Terrance Dentry (four carries, 20 yards) back to the lineup. Dentry was injured on the first play against West Point on Oct. 1 and missed the next two games.
But Dentry''s return gave the Trojans only a momentary lift, as they watched the Wildcats (4-5, 2-3) rush for 182 yards up until their final possession in the second half. The ground game helped Clarksdale turn an 8-0 halftime deficit into a 22-8 lead late in the fourth quarter.
"They kind of realized what is on the line. We''re fighting for a playoff spot, and with that in mind the seniors stepped up," Clarksdale coach Charles Reid said. "I felt we had changed the momentum, and then we had a few things go wrong that swung it back the other way."
The tide turned thanks in part to Richardson Jr. The senior running back/cornerback, who scored his team''s first touchdown on a 36-yard run in the first quarter, turned a pass over the middle from quarterback Zak Thrasher into a 62-yard score with 3:31 remaining. Tanner Ryals'' extra point made it 22-15.
New Hope''s defense then joined the rally. The Trojans allowed 2 yards on first down and 6 more on third down to set up a fourth-and-2 from their 44. Following a New Hope timeout, Kris Douglas helped the Trojans stuff Jordan Harris (12 carries, 93 yards) to get the ball back.
Reid felt his team could convert the play, which came with 2:20 remaining, because it had run the ball so well in the second half.
Instead, New Hope overcame a holding and a false start call and capitalized on an offsides and a pass interference penalty to move into scoring position.
Bradley mouthed thank you to himself on the sideline as the pass interference call gave his team a first down at the Clarksdale 11 with 1:09 to go. Thrasher (14 of 23, 237 yards) then found JoJo Reeves on a touch pass to the left corner of the end zone to help the Trojans pull within one point. Ryals'' extra point tied the game.
But the drama was just starting.
New Hope didn''t kick deep, which allowed Clarksdale to take over at its 43 with 57 seconds left in regulation. A delay of game penalty on third-and-6 from the New Hope 22, a holding call, and a penalty for an ineligible player down field, which came on a pass completion down to the New Hope 12, all but guaranteed overtime. A sack by Douglas and Q Newby did just that.
Harris scored on a 3-yard run on fourth down on the first series in overtime. Richardson Jr. found tight end Lawrence Brown on a 9-yard halfback option pass to tie it.
In the second overtime, Johnny Beamon gained 5 yards, Richardson Jr. gained 2, and Horace "Roc" Carr gained 1 to set up Richardson Jr.''s 2-yard run on fourth down.
"With a game-on-the-line situation, I know I want the ball to go to me," Richardson Jr. said. "I am going to try to get whatever we need to get to help the team."
Shirley emerged as more of a vocal leader down the stretch. More importantly, he backed up that talk and set the example his teammates followed. On Clarksdale''s last drive, he teamed with Dalton Hodges to stop Harris for a 1-yard loss on first down. He made a solo tackle for no gain on second down to set the stage for third down.
Shirley thought he saw someone in the flat and he just did what he normally does on a rollout pass and wound up in perfect position.
"I knew it could be a tipped ball," Shirley said. "I just ran over there and it fell right into my hands."
After the game, Shirley talked softly about the Trojans'' evening. He said he has battled through a season of ups and downs -- just like the team -- and is learning how to manage his emotions to stay focused. He hopes Friday night is the first step to carrying that out.
"Coach told me he needs me to step up and be the senior leader I know I can be," Shirley said. "I just started doing it tonight, and I am going to continue to do it the rest of the season so we can win a state championship."
Shirley laughed when asked why the team has made it so difficult on itself. He said the Trojans go hard Monday through Thursday in practice but tend to start slowly and rely on a strong second half to help them gather their balance.
Coming off a 21-0 victory against Lake Cormorant two weeks ago, a game Shirley said is the team''s most complete effort, he said the Trojans still have plenty of room to improve.
"We need to do better," Shirley said. "The offense is pretty good. They just need to do what they do in practice and we will put up 40 every game."
Bradley said New Hope has learned hard lessons all season. He said his team can''t wait until 6:45 p.m. to decide it is going to play. He said the Trojans need to find their focus in practice and then bring it Friday night. If they don''t, one of these hard lessons is bound to catch up with them.
"We have been searching for a little bit of that ''it factor'' all year long and, hopefully, we found a little bit of it tonight," Bradley said.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.