September 22, 2013 1:07:04 AM
AMORY -- Forget about the rain. The New Hope High School football team wants to "Turn it Up."
Maybe it has something to do with the tempo first-year head coach Shawn Gregory has brought to the team. The Trojans' mind-set also might have something to do with rapper 2 Chainz's song "Turn Up," which was one of several the New Hope players sang in unison Friday night as rain soaked them and Longenecker Field.
Even though the weather took away the aerial antics of the pass-happy opponents, New Hope adjusted thanks to a solid running game that included a two-touchdown night by Brenton Spann in a 21-0 victory against Amory in a non-district matchup.
The victory helped New Hope (2-2) even its record with its second shutout in as many weeks. Last week, New Hope blanked Caledonia 51-0. On Friday, tough, rain from the opening kickoff limited the amount of times Gregory could go to junior quarterback Brady Davis and an up-tempo passing game. Instead, New Hope chose to try to control the clock with its ground game. Despite committing 10 fumbles, New Hope lost only two and capitalized on the fact Amory lost five of its 10 fumbles, including two on special teams.
"I thought they handled the conditions extremely well," said Gregory, who played quarterback at New Hope High before going on to have a standout career at Jackson State. "On the road in conditions like that anything can happen and we didn't blink. We kept our hand on the plow and we kept working. Despite all of the penalties, we kept working and stayed the course."
Gregory was just as pleased the Trojans escaped their final non-district game without suffering any injuries. That was a welcome sight on an evening the rain remained steady and increased in intensity in the second half. By the time the game ended, there was standing water on the field and a river of mud on the New Hope sideline where the players followed the action.
The turf didn't prevent Spann from having a big night. The sophomore whose brother, Brandon, is a senior running back on the team, provided the highlight of the evening with a 67-yard run that proved to be all of the scoring New Hope needed. New Hope took over at its 3-yard line after it stopped Amory at its 27 midway through the first quarter. The drive turned the momentum as Brandon Spann gained 1 yard, 8 yards, and 21 yards to move the Trojans from the shadow of their goal line. On second-and-12 from the New Hope 33, Brenton Spann took his first carry and moved to his left toward the Trojans' sideline. Going full speed, he somehow managed to tip-toe the sideline and stay inbounds. After he regained his balance and was moving toward the end zone, he diagonally cut to his right across the field to finish the run.
"I thought I did step out of bounds, but I didn't hear a whistle and we have been coached to play until we hear the whistle blow, so I kept going," Spann said. "I knew I wasn't going to get caught from behind."
Spann knew he wasn't going to get taken down because running backs in Gregory's system have to do extra work in the sand pit off to the side of the practice field if a defender catches them. Even in the worst weather Spann recalls playing in, he has enough speed to avoid that punishment and provide a spark.
"He runs with great balance," Gregory said of Spann. "One thing I noticed about him in practice is he can make those cuts. Brenton has outstanding vision and is able to make people miss in those type of conditions."
Gregory feels Spann's performance showed potential that could help him become an outstanding running back at New Hope High. With Brandon Spann, who he considers more of a bruising back with good speed, Gregory hopes New Hope continues to show the kind of balance it will need once it kicks off Class 5A, Region 1 play next week at Clarksdale.
Davis, who hit Victor Deloach on a 61-yard touchdown pass, believes Brenton is a little shiftier and quicker on his feet than Brandon. Those two and Bryson Ellis give him three weapons in an offense he has grown comfortable in and one that he and his teammates are enjoying.
"We feel good," Davis said. "I feel good about the offense. It has been clicking a lot better the last two weeks in practice and in games. We just have to stay focused. It is all up to us. I think we compare with any team in district. We have been young, especially last year, but we have grown up. We all have played together three or four years, and I think we have the team that can make a lot of noise and surprise some people."
New Hope has the potential to make that noise in part because it has big-play capabilities. Even on a wet field, New Hope showed how effective it can be playing at a fast tempo. The second score came on a quick-hitter pass by Davis to his left to Deloach, who took the screen and weaved his way to the end zone. The final score came on a 32-yard run by Brenton Spann after Davis had been dropped for a loss on the previous play.
Davis knew Spann was going to stay in bounds on the first score. He also knew he was going to take advantage of the offensive line's solid work on the final score. Put it all together and the Trojans' ground game and passing attack has the potential to make defensive coordinators' heads hurt.
"He does that every day," Davis said of Brenton Spann's moves. "When I saw that lane and I looked down the field, I knew if he saw it he was going to score. I have played with him since we were little and he has always been quick on his feet and able to find the holes and get to the end zone. He does it more than any back I have played with."
Brenton Spann hopes he gets more opportunities to show what he can do. He said he and his brother are about the same height (5-foot-10, 5-11) but Brandon is about "30 pounds" heavier, even though the New Hope roster only lists Brandon at 175 pounds and Brenton at 157. Brenton said he has put on a few pounds -- as has his brother -- thanks to the work they do on the Bowflex the family got a couple of months ago. The Bowflex is an exercise machine designed to improve strength training.
"Brandon is more of a powerful runner than I am," Brenton said. "He likes to run through the middle, but speed wise I have got him. ... He is not slow. He is about the same time in the 40-yard dash, but in the distances I get him."
Gregory likes the notion of having backs that complement each other because he knows depth at that position will be key in Class 5A, Region 1 play. Whether it is Brenton or Brandon, Gregory also realizes the team will benefit if it continues to play with the selfless attitude it showed Friday night.
"Brandon is like a Jerome Bettis type of a back who is going to go down and pound you," Gregory said. "Brenton is a slasher who will cut on you and make you miss. It is amazing to have two different backs who are brothers. They bring a lot to the offense. It is good to see them have the nights they had.
"This is a team that is still trying to learn how to win. After the first two games (losses to Aberdeen and Columbus), we harped on finishing and being a team player and all of the things that go along with being a great teammate and believing in each other. We dropped two games that easily could have gone our way, but they are developing confidence in each other."
The Trojans are believing in each other so much that they felt like breaking out in song in the second half. As the rain poured down, some of the New Hope players even joined with the cheerleaders and attempted a chorus line maneuver. Maybe you can credit junior Melvin Brownlee, who is one of the Trojans who has used the lyric "Turn Up," or "Turn it Up" to signify New Hope has grown up.
But Brenton Spann might have had the best response when asked about what "Turn it Up" means to the Trojans.
"Everybody goes out and tries to play their hardest and to perform to their greatest potential," Spann said.
If that's the case, New Hope shouldn't care it if rains. Just be ready to break out into song with them when they start rolling.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.