October 3, 2010 12:43:00 AM
CALEDONIA -- How does a team mired in a 25-game losing streak that averages less than a yard per rush, finishes with less than 100 total yards, and completes as many passes to the opposition as it does to itself end that streak?
"When you play with heart and effort, when you change your attitude, but most of all, when you believe in yourself, good things will happen," Caledonia High coach Ricky Kendrick said after his undersized and inexperienced Confederates (1-6, 1-0 Class 4A, Region 4) shocked Amory 17-14 in overtime Friday for their first win ever against the Panthers.
Knotted at 14 after four back-and-forth quarters of play, senior kicker Kevin Kugel split the uprights from 32 yards in overtime, but the wild Homecoming celebration had to wait until Amory dropped a sure, game-winning pass in the end zone and then missed a game-tying 37-yard field goal that would have sent the game into a second overtime.
"Nobody gave us a chance, and nobody thought we could do it, but that''s why you line up and play the game because everything they write in the newspaper isn''t necessarily the way it''s going to be," Kendrick said. "Folks write things like they know what they''re talking about, but you can''t let that get you down. You have to believe you''re just as good as the team you are playing and ignore all that negative stuff."
Playing with a renewed spirit, belief in oneself, and attitude adjustments aside, it also helps when your opponent drops a half-dozen or more passes in key situations, is penalized 20 times for 195 yards, and wastes scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity by making countless mistakes.
"We have nobody to blame but ourselves," said Amory first-year coach Trent Hammond, whose team slipped to 2-5 and 0-1. "We had more holding calls than any other game this season, and penalties killed us all night.
"Plus, we''ve given up only three sacks the past three games and our quarterback (Forest Williams) had about a 65 percent completion rate since the Aberdeen game, but we dropped so many balls tonight he probably didn''t complete 20 percent of his passes, and I can''t tell you how many times he was sacked."
If Hammond was shocked by what transpired, Kendrick was equally mystified.
"I can''t explain what flipped the switch with this team," Kendrick said. "Maybe it was all the excitement of Homecoming, and if it was, we''re going to have Homecoming more often than once a year.
"Seriously, though, what Amory saw on tape in our loss (14-0 last week) to Hamilton last week wasn''t the team that showed up tonight. It was the same team on the outside, but they changed themselves on the inside, and that made all the difference in the world."
Although he was reluctant to mention it, an unconventional game plan also figured prominently in the upset, as Kendrick elected to kick off to start the game and again in the third quarter. He also replaced all but one of his defensive linemen with "130-pound" linebackers and defensive backs.
"We''ve got a kicker who can put it in the end zone and we had a strong wind at our backs to start the game, so I took a gamble when Amory won the toss and they elected to defer (to the second half)," Kendrick said.
"We hadn''t been able to do much on offense the last couple of games, but our defense hadn''t played all that bad, so I decided to give them (Amory) the ball and see what they could do against our defense."
Kendrick''s replacement strategy worked to perfection. The smaller, quicker linemen held the Panthers to 76 rushing yards -- 72 by Williams (61 of which came on a pair of quarterback draws). But Williams was sacked six times for 41 yards in losses.
Just as he thought, Kendrick''s offense had trouble early on as the first two possessions ended with a three-and-out and an interception by Hayden Williams, which was returned to the Caledonia 34-yard line.
The turnover set up a 7-play drive capped by a 1-yard, fourth-down touchdown plunge by two-way starter Lester Freeman. Madison Francis, a recent recruit from the soccer team, added the point after for a 7-0 Panther lead with 4 minutes, 9 seconds left in the first quarter.
On Caledonia''s third possession, a high fourth-down snap was recovered in the end zone by punter William Breen, who tossed the ball against the fence in an apparent safety for Amory. But the Confederates dodged the bullet when the Panthers were flagged for offsides.
Up 7-0 minutes before half, Hammond gambled on a fourth-and-short from his 40, but up-back Channing French was stopped for no gain on the fake punt attempt to give Caledonia a chance to tie the game.
A 15-yard face mask penalty followed by a 15-yard pass interference call against Amory moved the ball to the 10. The Panthers then lined up in the neutral zone to give Caledonia a first-and-goal at the 5.
Quarterback Richard Keene picked up 2 yards on a sneak, but the Confederates were flagged for holding on the next play to push the ball back to the 14. Undaunted, Keene found 6-foot-5, 290-pound tight end Cole Carter wide open in the end zone and Kugel added the point after to make it 7-all with 1:03 left in the half.
"That series was huge," Kendrick said. "It gave us a real boost at halftime, and you could see the kids start believing they really had a chance to win this thing."
Amory regained the lead midway through the third quarter when Breen was downed at the 7-yard line following a low snap from center on a fourth-down punt attempt.
Williams called his number on first down and was caught at the 1-yard line, but a holding call followed by a delay of game pushed the ball back to the Caledonia 15. Senior Ryan Hill worked his way open in the end zone, however, and Williams'' toss was on target for the touchdown. Francis'' kick gave his team a 14-7 advantage with 7:02 left in the third quarter.
The Confederates, who posted a pair of three-and-out series on their first two possessions of the second half, handed Amory another scoring opportunity thanks to an interception by Zack Khima, who it to the Caledonia 22 on the third series of the quarter.
But once again, a fourth-and-short effort fell a yard shy of a first down when Williams was stopped at the 13.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Caledonia mounted its longest drive, a 13-play, 53-yard march that ended on a 1-yard Keene sneak and Kugel''s game-tying kick.
Freshman running back Onterrio Lowery (29 carries, 53 yards) accounted for 39 yards on the drive, but the key play was a 23-yard pass from Keene to Jonathan Comer on third-and-11 from near midfield.
Caledonia mounted one last effort to break the tie on its next possession, but linebacker Bradley Riggs intercepted Keene with 35.8 seconds left to send the game into overtime.
Caledonia had the first shot, but Khima and Freeman had stops behind the line of scrimmage to set up what proved to be Kugel''s game-winning field goal from the 15.
Amory lost 10 yards on its first two running plays, the second of which came on a Jonathan Pagaduan quarterback sack, and then dropped a sure touchdown pass in the end zone followed by the missed 37-yard field goal attempt to set off a wild but long overdue Caledonia celebration.
"It''s too bad (we didn''t win) because our defense played well enough to win," Hammond said.
Said Kendrick, "All the credit for this monumental win goes to the assistant coaches. Coach Larry Wright, coach James Moore, coach James Reed, and coach Mark Hysaw just did a tremendous job all week in practice and during the game and that, combined with the kids believing in themselves when no one else thought we could win this game, made the difference."
1. Defense delivers dominating effort for MSU COLLEGE SPORTS
2. Starkville rolls past Oxford HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
3. Defense answers call for Noxubee County HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
4. Hughes returns for Bulldogs in style COLLEGE SPORTS
5. New Hope takes advantage of uninspired Aberdeen HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS