August 31, 2014 12:58:59 AM
ABERDEEN -- It has been said that coaching high school football is a lot like riding a roller coaster, with plenty of highs and lows along the way.
Fresh off an impressive season-opening 42-19 road victory against Shannon last week, the Aberdeen High School football team did a complete about-face in its worst overall performance since a 45-0 thrashing by Noxubee County two years ago.
Veteran Aberdeen coach Mark Bray knows how unpredictable prep football can be, but his team's 35-8 loss to Class 5A New Hope at home didn't surprise him.
"Tonight's results were predictable," said Bray, who sent several players out of the locker room and then admonished his team for their pre-game conduct. "When you don't take things seriously in practice, when you're not mentally ready to play and you're laughing, clowning around and carrying on before the game, the end result is what you see here tonight -- an undisciplined effort, which results in a one-sided loss to a very good football team."
After racking up 375 yards last week, including 218 rushing, Aberdeen gained only 223 yards (99 rushing on 34 carries and 124 passing) against New Hope.
"Our offense played the way we practiced last week," Bray said.
Defensively, the Bulldogs gave up 348 yards to a group of Trojans that balanced 162 yards rushing and 186 passing.
"Our defense didn't play at all," said Bray, whose defense jumped offside six times -- three of which came on New Hope's second touchdown drive.
Aberdeen was penalized 14 times for 97 yards, including two 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalties.
"Until we decide to practice and prepare to play quality opponents like New Hope, we're going to struggle," Bray said. "New Hope is a good football team, and they played well and had a lot to do with what happened out here. But, for the most part, we did this to ourselves. It was a series of little things that got us beat, and we've got to change our mentality."
On the opposite side of the field, it was a happy homecoming of sorts for first-year coach Kris Pickle, who served as Aberdeen's offensive coordinator from 2007-09.
Pickle and offensive coordinator Michael Campbell started preparations for the season with a setback, when blue-chip quarterback prospect Brady Davis transferred to Starkville High. But senior Stone Sisson, a 6-foot-3, 180-pound tight end a year ago, stepped in to fill the void and had a successful debut under center. He led the Trojans on three first-half touchdown drives to help the team take a 21-6 halftime lead.
"Stone is a winner. No doubt about it. He's the kind of kid you would want your daughter to date," said Pickle, a sentiment echoed by Campbell. "He was a tight end a year ago and hasn't taken a snap in a game since ninth grade."
Sisson was 12-for-16 for 186 yards and one touchdown, a 50-yard toss to Bryson Ellis midway through the second quarter.
Sisson wasn't the only arrow in Pickle's quiver, however, as the offensive line opened holes for diminutive scatback Brenton Spann, a 5-10, 157-pounder, who responded with 107 yards rushing on 16 carries for a 6.7 average per carry.
Ellis also left his mark, catching four passes for 55 yards and a touchdown. He gained 14 yards on his only carry.
"We've been preaching to them we needed to finish," said Pickle, "finish games, finish reps, finish practice, and I think they took that message to heart."
After a 17-yard sack of quarterback Josh Williams brought out the punting team, New Hope took over near midfield on its second possession. Sisson guided the Trojans on a six-play, 48-yard drive that featured a 29-yard scamper by Spann, which carried to the Bulldogs' 11-yard line. Gavin Salter capped the drive with a 1-yard plunge. Sam Taylor added the kick for a 7-0 lead with 2 minutes, 10 seconds left in the first quarter.
An interception by New Hope on Aberdeen's next possession gave the Trojans the ball at their 26. Aided by three offside penalties, Sisson led his unit on a seven-play 74-yard march and a two-score advantage. Spann had the two big plays in the drive, a 32-yard run on which virtually every defender took a shot in an effort to bring him down, and an 11-yard touchdown run with 7:46 left before the half. Taylor's kick made it 14-0.
New Hope made it three scores in four possessions minutes later when Sisson hit Ellis on a 50-yard touchdown toss and Taylor added the kick to make it 21-0 with a little more than five minutes to play in the first half.
Down by three scores, Aberdeen finally showed some spark, as Williams drove the Bulldogs 83 yards for their only touchdown. Williams, who left the game with a groin injury on the Bulldogs' second play of the third quarter, accounted for 52 yards on six completions to four receivers before scooting the final 3 yards 30 seconds before the half. Demarea Dobbins' kick was blocked.
Leading 21-6, the Trojans scored on their first possession of the second half, a methodical 10-play, 67-yard drive capped by a 2-yard plunge by Oscar Lewis and Taylor's kick.
"That drive was important for us," Pickle said. "Aberdeen had scored at the end of the first half, and I was glad to see that we answered like we did."
New Hope stretched its lead to 35-6 on its final drive of the third period, an eight-play 91-yard drive, 57 of which came on a Sisson to a Javonte Ellis pass completion. Salter's 1-yard run and Taylor's kick with 19 seconds left sealed the deal.
Aberdeen's only score of the second half came on a safety on the second-to-last play of the game.
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2. New Hope's James signs with Itawamba C.C. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
3. No. 2 MSU women play for outright SEC championship COLLEGE SPORTS
4. Bulldogs clinch SEC Championship COLLEGE SPORTS
5. Strong start leads MSU to rout of Ole Miss HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS