TUNNELL HILL — In the team’s final dress rehearsal before the regular season kicks off next week, the Calhoun Yellow Jackets showed flashes of explosive offense and devastating defense as they topped the Northwest Whitfield Bruins 17-7 during a scrimmage on Friday.
Despite the slippery and muddy conditions on the field due to the heavy rainfall the area experienced during the past week, members of the Calhoun offense managed to keep their footing and maintain their grip on the football long enough to tack on a couple of swift scoring plays early that proved to be the difference on the scoreboard.
“Offensively, there were definitely some bright spots, but overall we have a long way to go,” head coach Hal Lamb said. “When you factor how rough the field was because of the rain and the fact that we have had had just two weeks of practice, it was tough. I was proud of the effort of the guys, but we have a lot of things to work on before next week.”
The offensive starting unit was anchored by junior quarterback Gavin Gray, who connected on six passes for 101 yards in just a quarter and a half of limited action.
To keep everyone fresh heading into next week’s season opener, Calhoun used a rotation of backs, with powerful starting rusher Zack Fuller gaining 16 yards on two carries. The most impressive rush of the night belonged to junior runner Jonkell Tolbert, who blew past the Bruin defense on an outside rush and found the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown.
Perhaps the highlight of the scrimmage occurred when Gray hit junior receiver Bralin Barton in the numbers on a quick slant. Barton took what should have been a modest gain and utilized his breakaway speed, coupled with the solid blocking downfield by his teammates, to slice through the defense for a 70-yard touchdown catch and Calhoun’s second score.
Wide receivers Brannon Spector, Luke Moseley and Tyler Putnam also added receptions for the first unit.
“We have some explosive guys in this group of receivers, and that is a big asset for us,” Lamb said. “It is our job to find ways to get the ball in their hands.”
Backup quarterback Jake Morrow received some snaps to close out the first half after Gray was pulled. The dual-threat signal caller only completed one pass before the break, but it was a sailing, accurate toss that was snagged by wide receiver Nate Bonner for a 56-yard gain. It was Bonner’s second catch of the night after reeling in a five-yard pass from Gray earlier.
The deep completion in the closing minutes of the first half set up a challenging 42-yard field goal attempt for Elmer Gutierrez, who managed to deposit it between the uprights to push Calhoun’s point total to 17 heading into the locker room.
The veteran Jacket starting defensive unit was stout throughout the scrimmage, displaying the burst necessary to getting into the opponent’s backfield and pairing excellent coverage skills with the ability to knock away passes in the secondary.
Northwest Whitfield starting quarterback Luke Shiflett donned a non-contact jersey, but Calhoun’s pass rushers managed to get to him for a handful of would-be sacks throughout the first half.
Due to his contact limitations, Shiflett was mostly held in check. However, he did manage to add one impactful play when receiver Jaret Staten made an acrobatic catch on one of his passes thrown near the sideline. Staten promptly ran the ball 62 yards into scoring range. Shiflett finished off the drive by scrambling and hitting Brody Crossen for a five-yard score.
The Bruins also subbed in a variety of running backs during the contest, but none were as bruising as starter Dominique Sistruck. Sistrunk exited the game early due to a lower leg injury, but rumbled for 54 yards before his departure.
“Aside from that one drive, I thought our defense played very well,” Lamb said. “Shiflett is a Division I quarterback, and he torched us last year. So I was really pleased with the way our defense played tonight.”
Both teams took advantage of the game-simulated experience and allowed a mixture of junior varsity and freshman squad substitutions to gain some valuable reps in the second half. Although there were some impressive runs and catches, neither team managed to score by the time the fourth quarter wound down to a close.
Calhoun has one more week of practice to work out any kinks before the regular season opener at The Reeve against the Douglass Astros next Friday, Aug. 18.