Caledonia High School coach Michael Kelly talks to the officials during a break in the action of his team’s game against New Hope last week in Columbus. The Confederates won to snap a 13-game losing streak in the series. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
September 28, 2018 11:17:04 AM
The sticker "Beat New Hope" that rests on Michael Kelly's desk in the Caledonia High School field house serves as a reminder.
In June, one of the first issues Kelly faced after being hired as Caledonia High's new football coach was the school's rivalry with New Hope. After 13-straight losses, some would argue Caledonia and New Hope didn't really have a rivalry, but Kelly discovered how important the matchup was to his players when a group of his seniors told him they really wanted to beat New Hope.
Rest assured Kelly didn't stay up nights thinking about ways to beat New Hope. When you inherit a program coming off a winless season in 2017, there are plenty of other issues that occupy your time. The late date at which Kelly was hired and completed his coaching staff added to the challenges he and his assistants faced in transforming a program with little tradition.
While a season-opening victory against West Lowndes was nice, Caledonia took the first step in that transformation Friday in a 44-28 victory against New Hope at Trojan Field. The victory marked the highest scoring total for the Confederates in the rivalry dating back through the 1994 season.
Caledonia (2-3) snapped the streak without completing a pass. The Confederates also overcame 17 penalties and four fumbles to earn their first win in the series since a 14-10 decision on Sept. 10, 2004.
The emotion of the moment was everywhere, as the Caledonia players drenched Kelly and offensive coordinator Ray Weeks with the contents of Gatorade coolers. They also celebrated as the final seconds ticked down and then snapped pictures for nearly 20 minutes after the game to ensure history was captured.
Now Kelly and his assistant coaches have to find a way to make that memory last.
After giving his team Saturday to enjoy the win, Caledonia re-focused and started preparations for its next test against Shannon at 7 p.m. Friday in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A, Region 2 opener.
"I think they have come back down to earth a little bit," Kelly said Wednesday after the first two days of practice. "I think they are ready to head into division."
Other region matchups against Mooreville, Pontotoc, Amory, and Itawamba Agricultural High will round out the regular season.
This likely will be Caledonia final pairing with at least two of those teams because the MHSAA is expected to announce Monday reclassification of its athletic regions for the next two years. Speculation has it that Caledonia likely will remain in Class 4A, while New Hope and Noxubee County likely will move down to Class 3A. If that happens, Caledonia could be paired with teams like Leake Central, West Lauderdale, Mooreville, and Itawamba AHS, depending on which teams move up and which other ones move down.
Even if New Hope moves down, Caledonia likely will remain on the Trojans' schedule as part of annual Lowndes County showdown. The new region games will go a long way to determining how quickly Kelly and his staff can build a winning program at Caledonia.
The former defensive coordinator at Columbus High feels it can happen. He loves the work ethic of his players. He has talked numerous times about how the players have "bought in" and are "hungry" to reverse the fortunes of a program that finally broke a playoff drought in 2016.
Kelly feels his team "sees the bigger picture" in that it has made progress and that it has the potential to return to the playoff this season. Shannon and Pontotoc will be two of the toughest tests in the region, but Kelly's Confederates have shown an ability to hang in with everybody on their schedule. The team's triple option attack forces opponents to be disciplined. Running backs JeDarius Gore and Anthony Triplett and quarterback Brandon Edmondson give Caledonia several ways to attack defenses. Kelly admits the Confederates aren't loaded with playmakers, but he also is quick to point out his team will fight you for four quarters. That's the mentality Caledonia is going to need to build on its latest victory.
A year ago, Shannon hung 64 points on Caledonia in a rout. There's no telling how many points both teams will score in the rematch. Kelly said his team will play to its strengths to limit the Red Raiders' opportunities and hope it will have a chance late in the game to celebrate another victory. This one might not earn Kelly another sticker, but he can continue to move forward that there is greater confidence Caledonia is making strides.
"I would say all of our kids have put last season behind them," Kelly said. "They understand this is a new start. I think it is the whole identity with our kids. I believe in our kids. I believe in their mind-set. We have a good group of kids."
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. You can email him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.