Caledonia High School football coach Michael Kelly reacts Friday night in the waning moments of his team’s 44-28 victory against New Hope. The victory snapped a 13-game losing streak in the series. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
September 23, 2018 12:30:57 AM
The countdown officially started with 59 seconds remaining.
There were plenty of times earlier in the night when Michael Kelly could have celebrated. Big play after big play punctuated the effort of the Caledonia High School football team against New Hope on Friday night at Trojan Field. But each time the Confederates pushed out to a 17-point lead, the Trojans answered to cut the deficit back to 10. There even were a few times when it looked like the Trojans were going to seize that momentum and continue their dominance in the Lowndes County rivalry.
On this night, though, the Confederates learned how to win.
When Caledonia could finally exhale, Kelly clenched his fists and raised his arms above his head and pumped them. He then moved to his assistant coaches and dished out hugs to anyone he could find.
Twenty seconds later, Kelly was dancing on the field after his lower body was doused with the contents of a Gatorade cooler.
"It was real cold, but it was enjoyable," Kelly said. "It has been 13 or 14 years and these kids have worked their tails off for it."
Seven seconds later, offensive coordinator Ray Weeks, who had eluded a prior sneak attack, also was soaked.
"They just reloaded," Weeks said. "I saw them get coach Kelly, so I thought maybe they're done. I was focused on the game and they got me. It was well worth it. It was cold, but it was well worth it."
The Gatorade showers were more satisfying than the ones the Caledonia players handed out following a season-opening win against West Lowndes last month because the 44-28 victory against New Hope snapped a 13-game losing streak to their archrival.
Caledonia's last win in the series was a 14-10 decision on Sept. 10, 2004, at New Hope. The stretch included a run of six-straight shutouts from 2008-2013. The Trojans earned a 27-24 victory in 2015, which was the closest game in the series since the teams played one-point games in 2005-07.
On Friday, a big kickoff return by Anthony Triplett set the tone for the Confederates, who sprinted out to a 17-0 lead and held serve like a wizened veteran every time the Trojans volleyed back into the fray.
"We were just ready to go get them," said Caledonia senior running back JeDarius Gore, who had 10 carries for 138 yards and three touchdowns. "It was unbelievable."
Gore said he could feel a different energy all week leading up to the game. He said the team had a higher level of focus that it will need to carry over to district play next week when it takes on Shannon. Gore said the victory, which he called the best of his high school career, means even more than bragging rights after so many years of coming up short. He credited the offensive line for paving the way to a rushing attack that gained 282 yards.
"The coaches told us during practice that we had to spread them out and we could beat them (with our speed)," Gore said. "That's what happened."
Caledonia High assistant coach Jason Forrester played football for New Hope High and graduated from the school in 1993. He also was head coach at Caledonia in 2008 when New Hope earned a 34-0 victory.
"This is a big step forward because the boys fought through so much," said Forrester, who coaches the linemen. "They kept fighting back to push us, but we kept pushing, too. I think they figured out they can continue to push and continue to get better if they'll just keep working hard."
Forrester was at Caledonia High the last time the Confederates beat the Trojans. That game was played on the old football field, which is now the soccer field, behind the old high school. Forrester said Caledonia also beat New Hope in 1989, but he didn't know how many times it had defeated New Hope prior to that. Knowing the schools like he does, Forrester said the rivalry probably was more intense years ago because the communities were closer knit because there wasn't as much to do. That didn't diminish the importance of Caledonia's latest victory, though. Forrester said Caledonia's second win of 2018 is even sweeter because the players have improved so much since the summer when Kelly was hired and he filled out his coaching staff. There wasn't a lot of time to put systems in, but Forrester said the players bought in and have worked hard to erase the memories of winless seasons and losing streaks.
Forrester hopes the victory against New Hope will bolster the confidence of a program that is hungry to build tradition.
"They're learning the way we want the game played," Forrester said. "I had a learning curve as well. I got there. These guys are getting there. More reps are making it easier and easier for them. I believe the consistency will come with the reps they are getting.
"They carry themselves better. When they talk about football it's not about, 'Here we go again.' It is, 'We get to play Friday night and we have this going on and this going on.' They're talking about it the way you would expect a player to talk about the game. ... They're really starting to do things the right way. Before that, there was a lot of indecision. I don't know if we have simplified things a lot more or what, but it is starting to click with them."
Judging from the players' execution with the Gatorade showers, they are becoming quick studies when it comes to post-game celebrations.
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. You can email him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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