September 3, 2010 10:24:00 AM
CALEDONIA -- Ball control versus big plays is a simplistic way to promote tonight''s Lowndes County matchup between Caledonia and West Lowndes.
A better way to examine the matchup at 7:30 tonight at West Lowndes featuring the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A Confederates (0-2) and the Class 2A Panthers (1-1) would be to say that both teams are still working to establish their identities.
West Lowndes might be ahead of Caledonia in that respect. The Panthers rebounded from a season-opening loss to West Oktibbeha at home to beat East Oktibbeha 20-12 last week. Caledonia coach Ricky Kendrick said West Lowndes looked much improved from week one to week two, and West Lowndes High coach Bobby Berry agreed. But Berry wasn''t ready to proclaim the Panthers have arrived. Instead, the veteran coach said the victory was just a small step that came after a lot of running and conditioning work following the West Oktibbeha game.
Berry admitted after the loss, in which his players cramped more than the Timberwolves, that he thought his players were in better condition. He remedied that by going hard on the water and running early in the week to ensure his team was ready for the rivalry game. He said the Panthers made sprints in practice longer and did more of them to help the players get their wind.
Running back Antonio Wilson rushed for 188 yards on 28 carries to lead the Panthers, but Berry cautioned the nature of the rivalry game might have helped his team.
"Each side is going to play extremely well when it is cousin against cousin to see who is the best," Berry said. "It has been that way for a while. It is a grudge match to see who can win."
West Lowndes'' rivalry with Caledonia might not be at the same level, but Berry doesn''t feel his team should be any less prepared. In fact, he said the Panthers need to be wary of the Confederates'' Wing-T and their ability to control the clock and the tempo. He said his team will need to put Caledonia in long-yardage situations to make life tough for Kendrick''s crew.
On offense, the Panthers will look to Wilson to shoulder the load and quarterback Gerald Sanders to manage the game. Sanders was 7 of 16 for 107 yards last week.
"We ran the ball fairly well," Berry said. "(Wilson) is adjusting (to the work load) quite well. He wants the football and he wants to run it."
Berry said he and his assistant coaches have talked to Wilson about taking the smart gains and not always making contact to gain a yard here or there. He said Wilson will have to pick his spots to save against the wear and tear on his body that comes with being a featured back in a long season.
For Kendrick, who is in his first season as head coach at Caledonia after working most recently as an assistant football coach at Amory High, the Confederates are still trying to limit the mistakes that have prevented them from snapping a losing streak that has grown to 21 games, dating back to the 2008 season.
Last week, Caledonia trailed 3-0 late in the fourth quarter against Saltillo, but it hurt its cause by committing five turnovers, including four fumbles, in a 10-0 loss. Kendrick said some of his team''s problems, like taking a snap from under center, are basic and will take repetitions to iron out. He said one as basic as the center exchange is a little tougher for the Confederates, who have moved from the spread attack of David Boykin to Kendrick''s Wing-T. The Confederates also are working with a new quarterback, but Kendrick said his team is improving and doesn''t want to settle for moral victories.
"The kids are competing and playing hard, and that is keeping us close," Kendrick said. "We''re still in the spring and in the first few weeks of practice running our system."
Boykin''s decision to leave Caledonia and to take a job as an assistant coach/offensive coordinator at Louisville High left Kendrick with little time to prepare for the season. The transition has gone well, he said, and the Confederates are moving the ball well at times in the new offense. He said it will take time for the players to adjust to the technical things that are a part of running the Wing-T smoothly. When, not if, those things happen, Kendrick knows Caledonia will be in position to win games like the ones the first two weeks.
"We want folks to be proud of the progress. We''re not trying to shout them down, but we want our kids to understand our goal is to win," Kendrick said. "Eventually this program is going to get off the bottom.
"We have talked (the kids) about (winning) from day one and that we''re not making any guarantees when it is going to happen. I think one of the reasons they get so fired up about it is they are close. If we play hard, compete, grade high on every play, and we try not to look at the scoreboard until it is over, one of these days we''re going to look up when the horn blows and it is going to be there."
Until then, the Confederates will continue to move closer to that goal, while the Panthers will try to position themselves for a playoff run. Berry feels his team will need to play better defensively to make that happen, and he knows the Panthers, like the Confederates, aren''t there yet.
"I am not saying we''re back heading in the right direction. I was hoping we would be going in that direction from jump street," Berry said. "But we want to improve week by week. Even though we have a pretty experienced offensive line that played last year we still need to keep improving and not get the big head."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.