The preseason scrimmage is in the books for the Calhoun Yellow Jackets as they defeated the Northwest Whitfield Bruins, 23-14, at Phil Reeve Stadium on Friday. It was the first-ever game for many, including Calhoun head coach Clay Stephenson.
“It was a great feeling,” Stephenson said on his first win as head coach. “It was a practice game, but anytime you keep score, you want to come out on top no matter who’s playing.”
Senior quarterback Jake Morrow started the game for the home side and played the entire first half. Morrow went right to work on the first offensive possession, finding junior wide receiver Clayton Long for 19 yards.
Calhoun found the scoreboard less than two minutes into the contest, when junior running back Jerrien Hames scampered to the end zone from 13 yards out. Senior kicker Eduardo Fajardo’s extra-point attempt was good, and the Jackets led 7-0 with 10:07 to go in the first quarter.
“I feel like their effort and their physicality (stood out),” Stephenson said on the starters. “I feel like that was a point of emphasis during the offseason, and I feel like we came out tonight and showed that.”
Northwest Whitfield’s first offensive possession of the game did not yield desired results as freshman quarterback Owen Brooker’s third pass of the game was intercepted by Calhoun’s senior defensive back Will Seamons.
“The defense played really well,” Stephenson said. “That’s one of the strengths of our team. We played a bunch of players. Normally in games, we don’t play as many, so to hold another team to 14 points playing as many kids as we did was nice.”
The Yellow Jackets’ offense seemed to be clicking, but the team ran into some trouble on the next two possessions. A Morrow pass to senior receiver Cedric Lacey touchdown was called back on a holding penalty, followed by a red zone interception by the Bruins.
Calhoun’s third offensive possession saw the Jackets inside the red zone, but a Morrow pass to the right was intercepted and returned all the way to the Yellow Jacket 45-yard line.
Northwest Whitfield’s offense could not find the equalizer, as they struggled to string multiple first downs together.
However, the Bruins found the scoreboard with less than a minute remaining in the first half. On their own 49-yard line, Brooker threw a short pass to the left to sophomore wide receiver Ray Morrison. Morrison turned upfield and navigated the sideline 51 yards to the end zone.
With an extra point attempt good, Calhoun and NW Whitfield were tied 7-7 at the break. One of the biggest defensive differences in the half was Calhoun’s ability to stop the run, not allowing any Bruin rusher space to work.
The second half saw the backups enter the game for both teams. Morrow finished the evening 12-18 for 135 yards, one touchdown and a pick.
“I feel like Jake Morrow, in his first action, played well,” Stephenson said. “He missed a couple, but I feel like overall, he led the offense and executed the plan really well. He’s one of those quiet leaders that just does everything right and I’m very proud of him and I look forward to having a great year with him.”
On the other sideline, Brooker’s final stat line read quite similar to Morrow’s: 9-13 for 133 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
In the second half, NW Whitfield broke the deadlock as junior Chase Gentry navigated 31 yards to the end zone for a 14-7 lead.
Less than four minutes later, Calhoun responded when junior quarterback Jake Prather floated one over the top to junior wide receiver Jaden Brock. Eduardo Fajardo added the PAT and the game was knotted up, 14-14.
Early fourth quarter, the Jackets took a permanent lead when Lacey, playing at running back, rushed 45 yards to the south end zone. This saw Calhoun take a 20-14 advantage (after a missed PAT).
The scrimmage was well attended, as both fan bases packed their respective bleachers to catch their first glimpse of what 2019 could have in store.
“When (Northwest Whitfield coach Josh Robinson) called and asked if (the venue) could be changed, I quickly said yes,” Stephenson said. “Having this turnout here at the Reeve was awesome.”
Calhoun is off until Aug. 22, when the Yellow Jackets travel 30 minutes south to face the Ridgeland Panthers in the Corky Kell Classic in Rome. Kickoff from Barron Stadium is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.
“We’ll go back and watch the film,” Stephenson said. “This will be huge for us. The first part of next week, we’ll kind of focus on ourselves and, after that, we’ll look ... at a game plan for Ridgeland.”