May 17, 2009
Missed opportunities aren''t any less frustrating in the spring.
The only solace for New Hope coach Michael Bradley, Starkville coach Bill Lee, and Amory coach Pat Byrd is that their results in the New Hope High School Jamboree won''t count against them in the 2009 season.
New Hope, Starkville and Amory completed its spring seasons Friday in action that also featured Pontotoc and Shannon.
Starkville defeated Amory 21-7 and lost 10-7 to Pontotoc. Pontotoc defeated Amory 7-0. Those results were two-quarter games.
Shannon then edged New Hope 7-0 in a matchup that featured four 10-minute quarters.
Of the three local coaches, Bradley likely had reason to wonder what could have been if the Trojans had converted a first-and-goal opportunity in the first half, or caught a number of passes that were dropped or went through the hands of receivers.
Still, Bradley didn''t let the result frustrate him too much because he knows neither he nor Shannon put their complete offensive and defensive packages in for the scrimmage.
More importantly, state championships aren''t won in May.
"There were about 70 plays in that game and it came down to two or three of them, and we didn''t make any of them," Bradley said. "If you want to win that game against a really good team, you have to make the big play when the big play is there to make, and we didn''t make it."
Like all of the coaches, Bradley said the action gave him an opportunity to see inexperienced players in action. Some were a little star struck, while others capitalized on the chance to make an impression that could carry into the fall.
The New Hope-Shannon matchup capped the jamboree with hard-hitting action. One Shannon player was ejected for a late hit, while a New Hope player was penalized for a personal foul.
Shannon, which lost to Noxubee County in the North Half State title game last year, will remain in Class 4A this season. It scored the only touchdown on a 1-yard run by Keon McGuaghy in the second quarter.
New Hope, which lost to Noxubee County in the Class 4A North Half semifinals, will move up to Class 5A with West Point this season.
The Trojans had their best drive of the evening following Shannon''s score. A Terrance Dentry 23-yard gain on third-and-7 kept the drive alive. Zak Thrasher connected with Lawrence Brown for a 7-yard gain on third-and-8 and Franklin Richardson gained 2 yards on fourth-and-1 to give New Hope a first-and-goal at the Shannon 1.
But a penalty on first down pushed the Trojans back, and Richardson was sacked on the next play, giving the Trojans a second-and-goal from the 19.
Two incompletions later, Tanner Ryals missed a 36-yard field goal.
"When those plays are there to be made we have to step up and make them," Bradley said. "That is as much mental as it is anything."
Shannon ate up nearly five minutes of the fourth quarter in a drive that reached the New Hope 14 before it was forced to turn the ball over on downs.
New Hope had 2 minutes, 47 seconds left for a final drive that featured a 33-yard pass from Thrasher to Johnny Beamon. The play moved the Trojans to the Shannon 48, but an incompletion, a dropped pass, and a rush for -3 yards set up fourth down.
Bradley captured the sentiment of the evening when he said, "Fourth and missed opportunities" as he walked past one of his assistant coached.
The comment came right before a pass by Thrasher down the left sideline to a wide open Kris Douglas was just out of reach.
"We''ll get better," Bradley said. "It was two teas trying to find other people to play. I think it was a good experience. I just wish we could have punched that ball in when we had the ball first-and-goal from the one-foot line."
Lee was equally pleased with his team''s performance, especially its effort against Amory.
Quarterback Jaquez Johnson threw touchdown passes of 58 and 15 yards to Chuck Tillery.
Backup quarterback Michael Newman added a touchdown pass to Jacobie Manning to cap the scoring.
Johnson''s ability to scramble and to stretch defenses gives Lee plenty of reason to believe that the Yellow Jackets can erase the memory of a 3-8 finish last season.
"We caught the ball well, had a good drop, set our feet, and really threw and ran good routes," Lee said. "There were times we didn''t do that and were inconsistent.
"We had a good bit of yards passing. Jaquez still has to grow some, but I like the positiveness about him and the way he has maturing."
Lee said fatigue had something to do with the mistakes, particularly the fumbled snaps, that cost his team against Pontotoc. Starkville played Amory and Pontotoc back to back.
"Mentally, when you get tired you try to think too much and do too many things," Lee said. "We''re going to work on being tough down the stretch. I am probably going to have to make practices a little bit longer so we get in a little better condition so we can focus a little bit more."
Reggie Griffin''s 43-yard kick return against Starkville helped give Amory its best field position of the afternoon.
William Ezell''s 3-yard run helped the Panthers, who will move from Class 3A to Class 4A this season, cut the deficit to 14-7.
But Amory is moving up in classification with new starters at the skill positions. Byrd said the Panthers won''t be able to live with the number of mistakes they made Friday as they make those adjustments.
"The number of mistakes was uncharacteristic, even for a spring game," Byrd said. "A lot of kids had stars in their eyes tonight. We had some freshmen and sophomores who will be sophomores and juniors play tonight for the first time tonight, and you could tell it. We''ll go back and look at the film and try to get better."
Chandler Riggs and Forest Williams split time at quarterback, while William Meaders and Griffin took the majority of the handoffs.
"(The quarterbacks) weren''t really starry-eyed. They just made some bad decisions," Byrd said. "We didn''t protect really well, especially against Pontotoc.
"We can be effective (running the ball). We don''t have great speed, but they both protect the ball pretty well and understand to run behind their blocks OK."
Those players will need to contribute in three months if Amory is going to contend with district rivals Louisville and Noxubee County, two of the top teams in Class 4A.
Byrd said he was pleased with his team''s tenacity and hopes the Panthers continue to mature.
"They''re going to give you great effort," Byrd said. "Effort is not a problem, but when you''re playing good football teams, effort is not enough. You have to execute, and we didn''t execute tonight."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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