September 6, 2013 10:02:23 AM
Shawn Gregory hopes his New Hope High School football team learned a valuable lesson in its season opener.
Aside from three fumbles to start the third quartet that helped turn the momentum of the game, Gregory had a lot to like in a 28-25 loss to Aberdeen. But the Trojans' first-year head coach knows how difficult it is for any team to win a game when it is its own worst enemy. That's why he is eager to see how his team responds from that loss at 7 tonight when it takes on Lowndes County rival Columbus.
Columbus has won the last three meetings in the series, and six of the last seven, dating back to 2005. The teams didn't play in 2009. They also didn't play from 1999-2004.
For Gregory, who was an assistant coach at New Hope High last season when the Falcons won 9-6, he would like his offense to continue to evolve. He saw plenty of good signs from junior quarterback Brady Davis, who was 19 of 42 for 229 yards and zero interceptions. Davis threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Jason Dickerson in the third quarter and a 27-yard scoring pass to Jaylon Bardley in the fourth quarter to help the Trojans rally from a 28-10 deficit. Unfortunately, New Hope had two other drives stall at the Aberdeen 31-yard line and at the Aberdeen 10.
Despite the turnovers that cost his team a 10-7 halftime lead, Bradley liked what he saw from a group that is still learning how to win and how to finish games after 3-8 and 4-7 finishes the past two seasons.
"I did like how the guys responded," Gregory said. "Our confidence level is extremely well. We just came up short at the end."
Gregory said one way he hopes the coaches can prevent that from happening again is by teaching the players not to get complacent when things are clicking. He said the turnovers New Hope committed on three possessions in the third quarter were uncharacteristic. He said the Trojans' running backs hadn't fumbled in training camp only to have them put the ball on the ground in key situations in the first game of the season.
"It was sure shocking to them because they didn't do it when we went one-vs.-one in practice," Gregory said. "That is one of the things that happens in a ballgame, but I like the way we responded to it offensively. We can't keep putting our defenses back against the wall."
Gregory praised his defense for responding in tough situations, but he cautioned that New Hope has to force opponents to go the length of the football field to have success. He also complimented the play-making ability of Aberdeen quarterback Josh Williams, who he said used his full set of athletic abilities and a fine set of receivers to make plays.
"He is one of the best quarterbacks were going to face this year," Gregory said of Williams. "He was able to make people miss and keep his eyes down field. Those receivers made some plays that receivers normally don't make. Our defense did a good job of containing him. ... It was a good test for us early in the year, and I think it is going to help us in the long run.
Gregory said the Trojans talked this week about having a short memory. He said they will need to do that because the Falcons have a senior quarterback (Trace Lee) who doesn't make mistakes and has a strong arm. Lee had to leave Columbus High's game last week against Noxubee County after getting swarmed on three consecutive plays. He said on the sideline he had a headache and returned for only one series before missing the rest of the game. His status for tonight's game is uncertain. If Lee doesn't play, Columbus likely will go with senior Kevin Jackson, a running back, who likely will run an attack heavy on the run.
Either way, Gregory believes his team will be ready for the latest installment in the rivalry.
"Columbus is a good football team looking at them on film," Gregory said. "They do some great things on the defensive side of the ball. It is another week we will have our hands full offensively. Our offense is going to have to come to play, and pretty much is going to have to click on all cylinders. Anytime you're playing a rival game anything can happen and it is all about momentum. We have to keep momentum on our size. ... It is going to be another test for us in all phases of the game."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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