October 24, 2009 10:23:00 PM
CALEDONIA -- One play can affect an entire game.
If you execute, one play can keep a drive alive and lead to a momentum-building effort.
If you fail to execute, that one play can lead to a spiraling confluence of events that can sap any team''s spirit.
It took only three plays Friday night for the Caledonia High School football team to experience one of those game-turning plays.
Unfortunately for the Confederates, the play was just another in a series of missed opportunities.
John Kern made Caledonia pay. The junior running back rushed for 121 yards and three touchdowns to help Kosciusko earn a 36-6 victory in a Class 4A, Region 4, District 4 game.
"It''s the same story, different day," Caledonia coach David Boykin said.
Kern scored on runs of 8 and 13 yards in the first half as the Whippets (4-6, 2-2 district) improved their chances of earning a playoff berth.
Kosciusko and Amory (2-2) are tied for the final two of the district''s four playoff spots. Kosciusko can wrap up the No. 3 berth Friday if it beats Houston. A Kosciusko victory would help Amory, which beat Houston 35-14 on Friday, secure the No. 4 spot. Amory will play host to Louisville in its regular-season finale.
The loss dropped Boykin, who is in his second stint as football coach at Caledonia, and the Confederates to 0-9.
Things might have been different if Caledonia had executed on its first drive.
Facing a third-and-5 on the Kosciusko 45, quarterback Brandon Bell fired a quick slant pass to his left. The pass hit the receiver, who had gained the inside track on the defender, in the hands and fell incomplete.
"We executed it pretty well," Boykin said. "The ball was thrown pretty well and the kid just dropped it. He is new out there and he is a good athlete. If he makes that play he can score because he can run. You need to execute that play. I am not saying he scores, but if we get a first down we move the ball a little bit. We just don''t move the ball."
Five plays later, Kern scored from 8 yards out to help give the Whippets a 7-0 lead.
Following an interception by Dylan Parker on Bell''s next pass, the Whippets needed just four more plays before Kern scored on a 13-yard run. Eddie Duncan''s extra point made it 14-0.
Kosciusko scored on its next two possessions, while Caledonia gained only 8 yards on its next two drives. The Confederates earned their only first down of the half on the second drive thanks to an offsides call.
Kosciusko added a safety and an 18-yard touchdown run by Tre Boyd on the next two series to make it 36-0 and set the stage for the running clock in the second half.
Coach Stan McCain substituted liberally in the second half. The first-year coach, who spent 12 seasons as head coach at West Lauderdale, said his team has regrouped from losses to Noxubee County and Louisville and is making progress.
McCain said the Whippets, like the Confederates, are trying to take it to the next level. He said the biggest challenge for a program that hasn''t experienced success is to develop a different mind-set.
"Winning cures a lot of stuff," McCain said. "Then the kids will start believing they can actually do it."
McCain experienced the building process at West Lauderdale. He said the program hadn''t won in nearly 20 years and it took time for things to change. He said the players'' ability to change their thinking aided the turnaround.
"The kids have to be hungry," McCain said. "They have to want to."
The Confederates showed signs of that hunger in the second half. They stuffed the Whippets on fourth-and-goal at their 2 and got the ball back with less than a minute to play in the third quarter. Bell connected with Edmund Elizenberry on a 12-yard gain. He then broke off a 19-yard run and hit Elizenberry again on a 14-yard strike.
The plays gave Caledonia life in the second half, unlike the effort in its last home game, a 50-0 loss to Houston.
Bell drove the Confederates forward, breaking off a 30-yard run on an option keeper. He then punched the ball home from 3 yards with 9 minutes, 8 seconds remaining in the game to avoid the shutout.
Boykin said the Confederates showed more fight but they still aren''t where he wants them to be. He said part of the problem is the Confederates only have 20-something players on their roster. He said the lack of competition for playing time hurts his players, who don''t get a chance to be pushed in practice.
"I probably haven''t done a very good job coaching this year, but the first thing I want to know is where do you start with 20 kids?" Boykin said. "We have 17 high school kids and 13 ninth-graders. Where do you start? They are going to go through growing pains. We have seven upperclassmen, and we have had two of those guys hurt.
"I don''t want to make excuses because we have played nine games and we''re 0-9. It''s not just one thing you can put your hat on. The kids are going to get better if they will fight through it."
But Boykin knows it is difficult for a young team that hasn''t won a game to stay mentally focused, especially when a play early in the game doesn''t go its way. He said being mental toughness will have to be one of the first things the Confederates try to establish as they attempt to change the fortunes of the program.
"We need something good to happen to us," Boykin said. "But nobody is going to give us anything. We have to make it happen. People love to come to Caledonia to play us in football because their confidence is sky high and ours is rock bottom.
"Losing is contagious, just like winning is. Week after week after week when you''re not successful it grows on you so it is a little easier to lay down. Oh here we go again. We didn''t complete the pass or we fumble the football. It''s not, ''Hey man, we''re supposed to win and we''re going to fight through this thing.'' "
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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