September 14, 2012 11:25:20 AM
Rivalry games always are big.
Caledonia High School football coach Ricky Kendrick doesn't mind acknowledging that his team's game at 7:30 tonight against New Hope High fits that description.
"They know it is New Hope, so there is no sense trying to put on (a false front)," Kendrick said when asked how his players felt this week preparing for their Lowndes County rival. "It is bigger for us. It is a big deal, and we have let our kids have fun with it."
Caledonia (4-0) wants to continue to have fun by doing something it hasn't done since 2004: Beat New Hope. A 14-10 victory that season is the only time the Confederates have defeated the Trojans dating back through the 1995. The teams didn't play in 2001 or in 2002.
A victory tonight also would help Caledonia stretch a season-opening winning streak that is one of the longest in program history.
Kendrick said the Confederates haven't changed anything this week following a victory against Class 2A East Webster and knowing a huge crowd is expected for tonight's matchup. Unfortunately, Kendrick said Caledonia will be without junior running back Onterrio Lowery, who was hurt in the first play of the second series last week.
If there is a positive, though, Kendrick said Caledonia's offense is predicated on getting production from multiple players. While he admits losing Lowery will hurt, Kendrick has confidence Gary Walden will be able to step in and help make up the 80-90 yards Lowery has averaged this season.
"He is a hard-nosed kid who runs hard," Kendrick said.
Kendrick isn't sure who or how his team will make up for the lost yards, but he said all of his "guards", the moniker he uses for all of his players, will have to play a bigger role against a team that will have a size and weight advantage at nearly every position.
Kendrick, though, knows games aren't played on paper, and he likes the energy his team has had this week in practice.
"They have big skill people and we have little skill folks," Kendrick said. "They run well and we run good. We are not filling our kids with any ideas or notions. New Hope is New Hope. They have played a heck of a schedule. I think they are getting their things in order. We're going to have to play an extremely good football game to stay on the field with those guys. Our kids know that, and it is OK they know that."
New Hope coach Michael Bradley's team is coming off a 9-6 loss to Columbus High last week. Greg Sykes' 24-yard field goal with less than a minute to play dropped the Trojans, who didn't have a first down in the second half, to 1-2.
Bradley said his team has struggled to find its rhythm on offense since the first half of a season-opening victory against Louisville. He said the Trojans have worked hard this week to try to correct their mistakes. He said Caledonia will make them pay if they don't get them fixed tonight.
"They're very improved," Bradley said. "They have got things going the right way. Coach Kendrick and his staff have done an outstanding job, but we can't worry too much about the things we can't control. We have to go out and play the football game. All of that stuff (associated with the rivalry and its history) doesn't mean anything at 7:31 tonight. It is going to be who did a better job during the week of preparing for 7:31 to 10 p.m. Hopefully our guys do a better job executing and correcting the mistakes we made and building on corrections we made this week."
Bradley said New Hope was its worst enemy last week, committing penalties, making poor reads, or doing things that were out of character for his program. He took the blame for the performance, saying it is ultimately his fault when his team isn't prepared like it should be, which he felt it wasn't. Tonight, he wants to see everyone raise their level and come together to help the team reach its potential.
"If we can correct the little things we didn't do right we have a chance to be very good on offense," Bradley said. "We have playmakers, but we have to execute the little things. That is the difference between being a good offense and an average offense, at best."
Louisville at Columbus
While Bradley and the Trojans are trying to solve their inconsistencies on offense, Columbus High coach Tony Stanford is concerned what kind of effort he will get at 7:30 tonight when the Falcons (2-1) plays host to the Class 4A Wildcats.
Stanford said he hasn't seen any "bump" from the 9-6 victory last week against New Hope. In fact, he hasn't seen a lot from his players this week in practice.
"I am kind of worried because we have been in a lull this week," Stanford said. "There has not been a lot of excitement going on, so I don't know how we're going to play."
Injuries remain a concern for Stanford. He said senior running back/defensive back Quan Latham isn't expected to play. He hopes to have linebacker Martavious McKinney back from injury tonight, but he isn't sure about Damian Baker, who has missed nearly all of this week with what he called a "stomach virus."The injuries could play a key factor, especially against quarterback Wyatt Roberts and big-play receiving threat Desmond Goss.
"Like always, they have a real good defense and they run to the ball real well," Stanford said. "They have gotten a lot better on offense since they played New Hope. Their offensive line has improved. They are trying to get an identity. They have got their game balanced out when they want to run it and throw it."
Stanford did get good news this week when doctors cleared wide receiver J.J. Swanigan to play tonight. He said Swanigan will wear a cast on his hand to protect an injury.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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