September 26, 2009 10:07:00 PM
HAMILTON -- Latedrick Troupe knew he had to make something happen.
Problem was, he didn''t have the football and he was running away from his end zone.
To make matters worse, the Hamilton High School running back was tracking back on a wet field and being chased by a handful of Caledonia High players eager to make a game-changing play.
Troupe beat them to the ball and delivered a game-changer of his own.
Troupe recovered a fumbled punt and raced 75 yards to set up his second touchdown of the game Friday night to help Hamilton defeat Caledonia 22-0 on homecoming.
"I just thought at that time we needed a big play because it was going kind of slow back and forth," Troupe said. "I just needed to make a big play."
Leading 7-0, Troupe and Durrell Hendricks converged on the punt inside the Hamilton 30. The ball slipped between the players and skipped back toward the Lions'' end zone.
"I called it and he didn''t hear me call it, so I guess he thought I didn''t want the ball," Troupe said. "It was just a big miscommunication."
Troupe had only one concern: Get the ball as quickly as possible.
The senior scooped the ball up just ahead of a Caledonia player and cut back to his left toward the Hamilton sideline. Collin Sanders gave him a crunching block that allowed him to the sideline. He appeared ready to take the return the distance, only to be stopped at the 5.
It didn''t matter, though, because three plays later Troupe used a second effort to plunge home from 7 yards out.
After the score, he sat in the end zone nodding his head as his teammates crowded around him.
Troupe knew the game could have been in the balance if he failed to recover the fumble. He said he never considered falling on the ball because he believed he could make a play.
"The play was set up to my left side," Troupe said. "I knew I had blockers, so as soon as I picked up the ball I said to myself, ''Get to the left side as soon as possible.'' "
Troupe''s effort helped give Hamilton (3-3) the cushion it needed against a Caledonia team (0-5) that hurt itself with mistakes.
Hamilton coach Ray Weeks said coaches always are nervous on wet fields that special teams mistakes are going to cost their teams. He believed the fumbled punt was another chapter in that saga.
"When they did that I was like, ''Here we go again,'' " Weeks said. "But they made a great play. That''s what a senior should do. He made something out of nothing. I think that was the turning point in the game."
The Confederates had their best drive of the game on the opening sequence. Starting from their 24, the Confederates used the running of Gavin Coleman to move inside the Hamilton 30.
But Coleman fumbled on a second-and-2 from the Hamilton 23 after the Confederates had chewed up 3 minutes, 41 seconds off the clock.
"We''re not good enough to turn the football over and be successful," Caledonia coach David Boykin said. "I think we''re going to score there if we don''t fumble. If we go up there, you never know what it is going to happen. But we are a one-drive team right now. Every week we get the ball on our first drive and we go down the field and something always happens. That is killing us. It is a momentum killer."
Coleman was injured on the first series. He returned for one play in the team''s second series but didn''t play again.
The injury was one of two key injuries Caledonia suffered to its backfield in the game.
Boykin praised his team''s effort, particularly his defense, which recorded two sacks in the fourth quarter.
But he said Troupe''s punt return proved to be too much to overcome.
"We had our hands on people and we have to make the tackle," Boykin said. "We are tackling him for a no-gain there and they break an arm tackle to go 70 yards to set up a score."
Weeks also praised the play of his defense, which scored the game''s final points on a Kevin McCartney fumble return of 42 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.
"The defense has been playing well all year," Weeks said. "If we put some points on the board we feel like we have a shot to win some games."
As well as the defense has played in the past three games, Troupe''s play has been a key of late for the Lions, who won their third consecutive game heading into their Class 2A, Region 2, District 4 opener against West Lowndes next week.
"I feel like when I first started out I was getting my feet under me," Troupe said. "Tonight they were double-teaming (senior wide receiver) Kevin (McCartney) a lot, so somebody else had to step up and make a play. My number was called, so I had to step up and make a play."
Troupe (15 carries, 94 yards) also scored on a 3-yard run in the second quarter. He said the Lions need to stay focused for the remainder of the season, and that he is willing to do whatever it takes to help Hamilton continue its run.
Running back toward his team''s end zone with defenders in pursuit might not be the best option, but Troupe said he will do it again if he needs to.
"Whatever works," Troupe said. "Whatever it takes."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.