Neither a steady, cold rain nor the defending Class 1A state champions
could stop the Calhoun City Wildcats as they continued their improbable
run to the state championship game in Jackson.
By JOEL McNEECE
Neither a steady, cold rain nor the defending Class 1A state champions could stop the Calhoun City Wildcats as they continued their improbable run to the state championship game in Jackson.
The Wildcats defeated previously unbeaten Ray Brooks 20-12 in last Friday's North Half Championship to advance to Jackson to face unbeaten Puckett in the state title game at 2:30 p.m. Friday.
Ray Brooks entered last Friday's game having won 24 straight, but like Greenville-St. Joe and number one ranked East Webster in the first two rounds, the Wildcats pounded away with a bruising ground game and a stubborn defense that eventually wore down the Tigers and earned 'City the win.
"We knew going in if we had enough patience offensively, we could line up and run over them," Calhoun City Head Coach Mike Ray said. "We just had to keep pounding them and wear them down. We had seen where other teams got away from it and tried to run outside, which wasn't going to work with their speed. We were determined to just keep going right at them, and the kids again executed our game plan perfectly."
The Wildcats outgained Brooks 268-146 in the game– 204 of those Wildcat yards came on the ground. Senior RB Jarvis Rounds led the way with 122 yards and all three 'City touchdowns.
“We have a good offensive line and a good team," Rounds said. "We’re young, but our young boys stepped up, matured through the season. We’re ready to go after that ring.”
The first half consisted of several exchanges of punts, an interception by each team (Brandon Lawrence recorded the pick for the Wildcats) and a defensive stand by the Wildcat defense that stopped the Tigers at the 'City 14-yard line.
The scoreless tie was broken in the early minutes of the third quarter when freshman DL Marcquez Jones broke through the line and intercepted a lateral from Ray Brooks' QB Cordell Giles. Jones raced 61 yards before he was caught from behind by Brooks' RB Devarcus Ireland at the 10-yard line.
After an offsides penalty on the Tigers, the Wildcats punched it in the end zone with Rounds carrying it from five yards out right up the gut. The extra point missed for a 6-0 Wildcat lead at the 9:11 mark of the third quarter.
The lead held up until early fourth quarter thanks to another defensive stand by the Wildcats and an interception by Demarius Howard. Brooks finally broke through, however, with a defensive play of its own. The Wildcats appeared to be marching toward a knockout score when Ireland scooped up a Wildcat fumbled snap and raced 95 yards for a touchdown. A failed 2-point conversion kept the score tied at six with 11 minutes to play.
The Wildcats wasted little time responding. Tae Lawrence returned the ensuing kickoff to the Tiger 45-yard line. From there Coach Ray turned to the power running game.
Senior FB Kent Stafford, who finished with 40 yards on 10 carries, pounded the Tigers up the middle for two 5-yard runs. Then they turned it over to Rounds who struck for four, seven and then 18 yards for a touchdown and a 12-6 lead with 8:04 left in the game.
Brooks responded with a 62-yard touchdown drive behind the running of Ireland, who had three big runs to carry the Tigers to the 8-yard line. Devoris Hunt scored the touchdown on an 8-yard run one play later. The Wildcat defense, however, held again on the 2-point try to keep the game tied at 12 with 6:01 to play.
The Wildcats, who didn't attempt a pass in the second half, offered one final, hard-hitting response. Howard returned the Brooks' kickoff 43 yards to the 37-yard line. The Wildcats then handed the football to Rounds eight times and twice to Stafford, all between the tackles, to chew up the remaining time on the clock as they powered into the end zone. The game-winning score came from Rounds from 2-yards out on third and goal with 30 seconds on the game clock.
"That was a hard-fought ballgame," Ray said. "We knew going in what kind of football team they have and what they were going to bring to the table. I can't say enough for our kids. They never quit. I'm very proud of them."