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Henry, Caledonia rally past Heritage Academy

 

Adam Minichino

 

CALEDONIA -- Brandon Henry found a time-saving way Thursday night to take care of his snack and dinner needs. 

 

All the Caledonia High School senior running back had to do was score touchdowns. 

 

After a first half in which he gained only 8 yards, Henry found his second wind in the final 24 minutes, rushing for 93 yards and a pair of scores that helped Caledonia rally for a 32-26 victory against Heritage Academy in the season opener for both teams. 

 

"He is a good running back. He is going to do a lot of good things for us on down the line, and he did tonight as well," Caledonia coach Andy Crotwell said. "He was battling a deep bruise in his calf all week, and he was limited in practice. He wasn't quite 100 percent tonight, but I thought he did a good job given the circumstances." 

 

Henry, who played primarily on defense last season, has taken over as the featured back for the Confederates following the graduation of quarterback Ben Marchbanks. Henry had plenty of help from an offensive line that took  

 

control in the second half and from sophomore quarterback Spencer Unruh, who was 17 of 24 for 216 yards and two touchdowns. 

 

But Henry was a top candidate for game ball honors after carrying the ball 14 times in the second half. Eight of those carries went for 7 yards or more. Henry also had six carries on the Confederates' final drive, an 11-play, 61-yard jaunt that earned them the victory. 

 

After the game, Henry was handed a Wild Berry bag of Skittles. The crunchy candy snack might be perfect for someone with a sweet tooth, but Henry said he isn't much of a candy man because he has to watch what he eats this season if he is going to stay in shape and be Caledonia's primary running back. Judging from the success Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has on the field after eating Skittles on the sidelines, Henry might want to re-consider not eating the gift. 

 

"I don't even eat candy like that," Henry said.  

 

If Henry decides to eat the Skittles, he better wait until after dinner. What those dinners will be, though, remain a mystery. Henry said his youth leader promised him a dinner for each touchdown he scored against the Patriots. Henry obliged with a 15-yard run with 10 minutes, 27 seconds to play in the fourth quarter. That score tied the game at 26. Heritage Academy's Mattox Heredia broke up a Spencer Unruh conversion pass in the end zone to keep the game deadlocked. 

 

Henry earned a second dinner on the ensuing drive. He started the drive in style with gains of 8 and 12 yards. Unruh kept the drive going with timely passes -- a 15-yarder to Cole Gullette and a 5-yarder to Robert Hamilton -- before Henry capped his evening by gaining the final 15 yards on three carries. The game-winner -- an 8-yard run -- came with 4:38 to play.  

 

"I think the little storm, the lightning, got me refreshed," Henry said. "We went in and looked at how the defense was adjusting to our run game, so we switched it around on the offensive line. They put their work in, and I adjusted to the diving real good. The reason I couldn't get that many yards was they kept diving at my legs. I guess I just got a feel for it and I started getting better." 

 

Henry was referring to a wait of one hour, nine minutes due to lightning in the area with 4:10 to go in the second quarter. The game was suspended at 7:58 p.m. and resumed at 9:07 p.m. The officials cut the halftime break to 10 minutes.  

 

Cayden Upton kept Heritage Academy's hopes alive by blocking the kick of James Longmire, but the Patriots' drive stalled after quarterback Dylan Barker hit Walker Brown with a 21-yard pass on third down that gave the team a first down at the Caledonia 35-yard line with 2:50 to play. Heritage Academy had -2 yards on its final four plays. A fourth-down pass by Barker was close to being caught for a first down with 1:00 remaining. 

 

"We have to be able to create sets to get certain guys off the field for a time that we can be effective with," Heritage Academy coach Barrett Donahoe said. "We only got into, I believe, three offensive sets. That was the game plan. We scored 26 points, so I thought we had a good offensive game plan, but we have to be able to get into different sets so we can get some guys off the field who have been on defense, and vice versa." 

 

Henry said he was bothered by a calf bruise he suffered last week in a jamboree against West Lowndes. He said there wasn't any doubt he would play, even though friends and teammates asked him all week if he would play. He credited his offensive line and defense for helping turn the tide.  

 

Senior offensive lineman Cody Cliett, who suffered a broken femur and a torn anterior cruciate ligament against Heritage Academy last season, played a key role at guard in helping pave the way for Henry and protecting Unruh. Building off a victory against Leake Central in the last game of the 2013 season and an impressive victory against West Lowndes in a scrimmage, Cliett hopes the Confederates can keep their momentum going. 

 

"Everybody trusts everybody on offense. We trust what we are running, and we trust if it is not working that coach Crotwell will make the adjustments and we will follow those. We have nothing to worry about," Cliett said. 

 

Crotwell felt his team's depth -- Caledonia listed 67 players on its roster, while Heritage Academy had 28 -- paid dividends in the second half when he felt the Patriots tired. As for adjustments in the second half, Crotwell said Heritage Academy's ends were squeezing so hard and his team's inexperienced H back couldn't kick them out, so they tried to wrap around them and go around them. 

 

Donahoe didn't want to use the disparity in roster sizes or the fact so many Patriots played both ways as an excuse, saying his team needs to regroup and learn how to respond, especially on drives immediately after opponents score. 

 

"It sounds like a broken record in losses, but the ability to get first downs after a score against your defense is so huge," Donahoe said. "We weren't able to do it tonight. We have to find a way to move the ball after our defense gives up a score so we can get first downs and regain the momentum." 

 

Donahoe also said having a runner like Henry who can dig down and find a fourth or fifth gear late in the game can make a big difference. 

 

"He was fresh the entire game," Donahoe said. "I felt like their offensive line was fresh in the second half. Their offensive line began to control our defensive line in the second half, and that was a big part of it." 

 

Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor 

 

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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