August 16, 2014 7:39:42 PM
The momentum continues for the Caledonia High School football team.
A year ago, coach Andy Crotwell's team could have packed it in at the end of the season. Instead, Caledonia rallied from a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Leake Central. The victory helped the Confederates finish 3-8 and gave everyone in the program a rallying point they needed to fuel their preparation for the 2014 season.
Judging from Caledonia's 32-0 victory against West Lowndes on Friday night, Crotwell's team has taken its preparation seriously.
Brandon Henry rushed for 103 yards on 12 carries, while Jantsen Glasgow rushed for two touchdowns and quarterback Spencer Unruh threw for another.
"I am encouraged," Crotwell said. I like how our defense settled down. West Lowndes ran the single wing, and I knew we would be a little confused initially, but they seemed to settle down and play pretty good defense. We still have to work on a couple of things with deep balls and special teams. Offensively, we have to settle down with the slanting and moving team that like to bring pressure because we see a lot of that in the league. This was a good game to prepare us for the season ahead."
Caledonia, a Class 4A school, capitalized on its size advantage up front to rush for 156 yards on 25 carries against West Lowndes, a Class 1A school, in the two quarters. Glasgow added 23 yards rushing, Unruh had 12, and Zach Weathers matched Glasgow with 23. Weathers' three carries put an exclamation point on the victory. Instead of settling for the already comfortable victory, Weathers ran hard and was rewarded for his efforts on the final play, as he scampered inside the pylon on the right side of the field and then was pushed through a fence in front of the West Lowndes High field house.
After the game, Crotwell congratulated his players, but he cautioned them that the work was just beginning. He made sure to tell them not to get too high from the 24-minute practice and turned their focus to Thursday night and the season opener against Heritage Academy in Caledonia. Last season, Heritage Academy defeated 35-14.
"I have to continue to emphasize that this is a work in progress," Crotwell said. "We have to continue to get better each and every wee, each and every practice, and each and every snap if we are going to achieve our goals."
The performance of Henry and Unruh gave Crotwell plenty of reason to be optimistic. He said he had the confidence Henry would be able to transition from defense to offense. This season, he expects Henry to be able to fill the void from the graduation of Ben Marchbanks, who played quarterback and was the Confederates' leading rusher. With an experienced offensive line, Crotwell believes Henry will be able to be a 25- to 30-carry tailback who can be productive.
Henry had four carries of 12 yards or more, including a 27-yard run. He showed speed to get to the outside and strength to run between the tackles in a strong debut. He said he feels the momentum from last season has carried over and has given everyone confidence that 2014 can be an even better season.
"I am a running back at heart," Henry said. "Defense really isn't my play style. The biggest change from defense to offense probably will be the running and the conditioning and the endurance I have to keep up to do those 25 to 30 plays. I think as the season progresses I will be able to keep it up."
As for Unruh, a sophomore, Crotwell said he has been encouraged by how quickly his new quarterback processes information. He feels Unruh has work to do in the weight room, but that he is right on track, so they won't put too much early on the season.
"We feel that as the season progresses, we feel like he can be a real weapon for us," Crotwell said.
Unruh was 4 of 6 for 34 with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Robert Hamilton. He praised the running of Henry and Glasgow and realizes the Confederates likely will rely on the running game. Still, that doesn't mean he isn't going to do his part.
"I am going to try to step up and be the best leader I can be," Unruh said. "The last game (of the 2013 season) was great. It probably was one of the most fun games I have played in. I think it can really carry over to this season and be really good for us. We just have to keep working hard and show up to practice and get ready to win every Friday."
Glasgow also made a case for a larger workload. The junior expects to be the Confederates' short-yardage option and fullback, so he understands Henry will be get the first call, but he said in the preseason that he wouldn't mind getting more than a handful of carries a game. At 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, Glasgow could prove to be an effective battering ram, especially behind an experienced offensive line.
"Jantsen is a load," Crotwell said, "but he is the consummate teammate. He is so unselfish. He scores a touchdown and then he doesn't say anything, but you can tell he is upset he doesn't get to run down on the kickoffs. He likes to be in the game in whatever capacity he can be. He just loves to be in the game."
West Lowndes coach Anthony King praised Caledonia and its ability to run the ball. He said the scrimmage will give his team plenty of things to work on this week as it prepares to open the season against Montgomery County on Friday.
King acknowledged he hopes the Panthers have better fortune against smaller classification teams, but he also said the team has to limit its mistakes if it is going to have a chance to improve on a 4-6 finish in 2013.
West Lowndes hurt itself with penalties, including a holding call that negated a touchdown, and lapses in concentration in which it failed to field a kickoff and gave Caledonia the football on its 1-yard line and didn't have enough players on the field or in the right positions.
"We had too many penalties and turnovers," King said. "It was evident that they had a little bit more size than we did and they controlled the line of scrimmage. We had too many penalties. We will try to get that cleaned up Monday when we look at the film."
King said in the preseason that he hoped the Panthers would be able to utilize their speed to make up for their lack of size. He said his running backs have to do a better job of hitting the holes, even if they are open only for a short time, and that his players have to stay focused and positive because one mistake can't cause another and another.
"We made too many mistakes," King said. "We have a young team and they dropped their heads once they got down. I wished we wouldn't have had a few flags and I would have seen how they would have played if their spirits would have been up.
"We have to get our seniors to step it up. The seniors have to keep the guys encouraged all of the way through. That's what I got on them about in this game. They dropped their heads and kind of lost their spirit. We have to get that fixed. The seniors have to lead by example and they have to keep their head up and keep playing and pull the young guys on. I still feel we will get better each week. We just met a better team tonight."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.