Caledonia High School football coach Michael Kelly reacts Friday night after his players doused him with a Gatorade cooler filled with water following a 40-12 victory against West Lowndes in the season opener for both teams. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
August 20, 2018 3:22:28 PM
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
CALEDONIA -- Normally, head coaches are hit with the traditional Gatorade shower, also known as the Gatorade bath, after a big wins.
That wasn't the case Friday evening, however, as the Caledonia High School football team surprised first-year head coach Michael Kelly with an ice-water shower with 36 seconds left in its season-opening 40-12 victory against West Lowndes.
"We got him," said one Caledonia player as he ran on to the field to celebrate with his teammates as they put a 0-10 finish in 2017 behind them with an exclamation point.
"They did," said Kelly after the game, "but these kids are tired of hearing about last year's 0-10, and I and our coaching staff couldn't be prouder of this team because they have been hard at work since June 18.
"I'm also proud of our coaching staff for the hard work and dedication they have shown. Offensively, we moved the ball well, especially on the ground with coach (Ray Weeks) calling the plays. Defensively, coach (Chris) Harlow and coach (Darius) Wren did a great job. I can't say enough about our senior leadership. They have put the hard work in themselves, they have bought into our system, and they've been a tremendous example for the younger players."
Senior leadership took center stage for Caledonia, as offensive linemen Tanner Holley and Lee Browning fueled a 357-yard rushing attack. Seniors JeDarius Gore (184), Brayden Gholson (104), and A.J. Johnson (9) accounted for 297 of those yards.
Caledonia's offense would have finished 2 yards shy of 400 yards rushing, but a holding penalty wiped out a 41-yard scoring run by Gore in the second quarter.
"Our seniors have made all the difference in the world for our program so far this year," Kelly said.
A 30-minute weather delay pushed the start time back to 7:30 p.m. A lightning alert cleared the bleachers for 30 more minutes with 5 minutes, 18 seconds left in the first quarter.
After the stoppage, West Lowndes couldn't overcome turnovers and penalties. The first of which -- a fumble -- ended West Lowndes initial possession at the Caledonia 30-yard line.
With Gore pounding the middle of the defense and Gholson going wide reminiscent of Heisman Trophy winners Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis, who were tabbed "Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside" for Army's top-ranked football team in the 1940s, the duo accounted for all the yardage in a nine-play drive. Gore's 24-yard touchdown run with 5:32 left in the first quarter capped the march. The two-point try was unsuccessful.
A short kickoff gave the Panthers the ball at their 48 and Jherquaveus Sanders quickly tied it 17 seconds later with runs of 36 and 16 yards. The second came on the first play following the lightning delay. Johnson, going both ways, broke up West Lowndes' pass attempt on the two-point conversion.
Early in the second quarter, a second Panther fumble gave Caledonia the ball near midfield and junior quarterback Brandon Edmondson found Gore wide open. The senior slot back sprinted untouched into the end zone to break the tie. Wes Rollins' kick gave the Confederates a 13-6 lead they didn't relinquish.
Two four-and-outs sandwiched around a Caledonia turnover ate up much of the second quarter, but the Confederates padded their lead with a12-play, 87-yard march seconds before the half.
Edmondson, who picked up 25 yards and then 13 more on two crucial keepers, finished the drive with a 6-yard sneak with 25 seconds left. Rollins' kick made it 20-6 at halftime.
After both teams fumbled on their first possessions of the third period, Caledonia made it 27-6 on Gore's 30-yard scamper and a Rollins' extra point.
A fumbled snap late in the third quarter deep in Caledonia territory followed by a pass interference call against the home team gave West Lowndes the ball at the Caledonia 14. Sanders' plunge through a half-dozen tacklers made it a 27-12 with eight seconds left in the third period.
Caledonia responded with a 46-yard kickoff return by Gore. Six plays later, Gore caught a 24-yard touchdown strike from Edmondson. Rollins' kick made it 34-12 with 9:01 left in the final stanza.
West Lowndes threatened to cut into Caledonia's lead by driving to the Confederate 15, but junior defensive back Dillon May made a touchdown-saving interception at the 1-yard line to end the threat.
After three short gainers and a personal foul 15-yard penalty against the Panthers moved the ball to the 19, Gore bagged his fifth touchdown with an 81-yard scamper. Rollins' final kick hit the uprights.
West Lowndes coach Anthony King said the turnovers and 15-yard penalties hurt his team's chances for a second-straight victory against Caledonia. The Panthers gained 185 yards (144 rushing, 41 passing).
"Turnovers, penalties, and missed assignments took its toll," King said. "That and the fact they (Caledonia) were stronger than us."
King said he wasn't all that disappointed in the loss, but being a Class 1A school playing against a 4A team with a lot of new faces put his team at a disadvantage.
"Some years you can play with the big schools and some years you can't. This year was one of the 'can't years,' " King said. "We're bad young and a lot of our players are still learning how to play.
"I'm proud my kids played as hard as they could. They didn't quit and we came out of the game without any injuries. We'll get a couple of things cleaned up and by the time we get to division play. We'll be all right."
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