September 12, 2010 9:39:00 AM
ABERDEEN -- Junior quarterback Forest Williams was a virtual one-man show early on, but the size and athleticism of the Aberdeen High School football team eventually wore Amory down in a 60-12 victory in Monroe County''s annual battle for the A-Team trophy.
First-year Amory High coach Trent Hammond surprised Aberdeen early, abandoning his running game in favor of a short-passing attack. Williams responded by accounting for the Panthers'' first 160 yards of offense on an 11-for-17 throwing effort for 115 yards. He also rushed for 45 yards on 10 carries in less than two quarters.
"If you know anything about me, you know I''m run-type football coach," Hammond said. "But with Aberdeen being a bigger, stronger team than we are, we had to change things up to give our kids the best chance to win."
That strategy initially paid off for the fired-up Panthers, who built a 6-0 lead on Dario Robinson''s 20-yard touchdown reception on their first possession.
The teams remained locked in a tight contest following Williams'' 17-yard scoring strike to Walton Chaney that cut Aberdeen''s advantage to 14-12 with a little more than seven minutes to play in the second quarter.
"Kudos to Amory for their game plan," Aberdeen coach Chris Duncan said. "We were not expecting anything like what they threw at us, and we sure didn''t see anything on film which would have indicated they were going to change up like they did."
Seconds after Chaney''s touchdown catch, a Channing French fumble recovery at the Aberdeen 13 gave the Panthers a golden opportunity to regain the lead and the momentum, but three incomplete passes and a missed 30-yard field goal attempt gave new life to the Bulldogs.
It took Aberdeen just six plays and 82 yards to make it 20-12. Chico Harrison started the drive with a 2-yard loss and then capped it with a 2-yard touchdown run. In between, quarterback Desmond Jones showed great patience behind some solid offensive blocking, completing a middle screen to Aaron McMillian for 28 yards, a 31-yard toss to Michael Hodges, and a 21-yard pass to Patrick Lockett to set up Harrison''s plunge with a little more than four minutes left in the second quarter.
Amory''s offensive woes continued on its next series, as Braxton Anderson partially blocked a punt that was returned to the 26-yard line. Five consecutive carries by Victor Hodges, the last of which covered 10 yards thanks to a downfield block by Michael Hodges, pushed the score to 26-12 with 1 minute, 10 seconds left in the half and turned the momentum completely in the Bulldogs'' favor.
"Our strategy worked for a little while, but when things start to go bad everything kind of started to unravel," Hammond said.
Despite the 14-point cushion, Duncan had a "serious" halftime discussion with his charges and it was all Aberdeen the final two quarters, as the Bulldogs exploded for 34 points en route to their biggest point total in the long and storied rivalry.
"For whatever reason, we came out with no intensity and no emotion in the first half," Duncan said. "We had bad practices all week, and when you practice bad, you play bad."
Shaking off their lethargic first-half performance, the Bulldogs responded to Duncan''s "pep talk" and struck quickly and often to turn what had been a close game into a rout.
Brandon Smith''s 37-yard second-half kickoff return gave Aberdeen a first down near midfield. It took the Bulldogs seven plays to make it 33-12 on Victor Hodges'' 14-yard touchdown run, on which he broke at least five tackles, and Antonio Crayton''s PAT kick.
Undaunted, Amory marched to the Aberdeen 32 on three pass completions to Ryan Hill, Justin Lackey, and Robinson, but Smith''s interception at the Bulldogs'' 8 ended the threat.
Hodges promptly ripped off a 38-yard run to near midfield. Four plays later, Jones sprinted to the 1 to set up a Justin Lucas plunge that made it 39-12. Jeremy Roberts blocked Crayton''s extra-point attempt.
On the ensuing kickoff, Amory''s John Lenoir pounced on an Aberdeen onsides kick at the Panther 40. But after four short pass completions, Braxton Anderson intercepted a Williams'' throw at the Bulldogs'' 33.
Seven plays later, one of which was a 55-yard effort by Hodges that was called back because of a holding penalty, Jones found Ward on a 9-yard touchdown strike 2:09 into the fourth quarter. Crayton''s PAT made it 46-12.
A 62-yard Jones to Jalen Devauld bomb on the Bulldogs'' next series made it 53-12. Johnny Wilson capped the onslaught moments later with a 60-yard fumble return for the team''s final touchdown. Crayton then added his sixth PAT.
Victor "He''s Still on His Feet" Hodges, as public address announcer Patrick Lockett is fond of describing the action every time Hodges plunges into the line, led all rushers with 205 yards on 24 carries and three touchdowns, including a 32-yard touchdown romp which erased an early 6-0 Amory lead.
With Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen looking on, tight end Channing Ward chipped in with an 80-yard sprint for a touchdown late in the first quarter, as he and Hodges accounted for the bulk of the Bulldogs'' 335 rushing yards.
"It was a wingback trap and we put that play in especially for Channing because we knew coach Mullen would be here," Aberdeen offensive coordinator Justin Moss said. "We''ve been sitting on it for several weeks, but we wanted to save it for tonight."
Jones had his best outing of the season, completing 9 of 13 passes for 218 yards, to help the Bulldogs amass 553 total yards.
Aberdeen''s defense limited Amory to 70 rushing yards, 45 of which were credited to Williams -- all in the first half. Quartez French added 20 yards on seven carries.
Williams was 20 of 34 for 162 yards. None of his completions were longer than 21 yards. He accounted for 207 of Amory''s 232 yards.
"The second half was much better than the first half," Duncan said. "You can chalk up the first half to anything you want to, but the bottom line is we just didn''t play hard the first two quarters."
1. Minichino column: Harrison proud of Vivians, Bulldogs COLLEGE SPORTS
2. New Hope edges Ripley in Class 4A playoff thriller HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
3. West Lowndes begins quest for Jackson by routing Piney Woods HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
4. MSU baseball team focused on moving forward COLLEGE SPORTS