The first two quarters of Thursday’s Corky Kell Classic contest between Calhoun and Ridgeland at Barron Stadium probably won’t go down as two of the prettiest in Jackets’ football history. But that was all erased by the third quarter, which likely could be included in that list.
The Jackets overcame a sloppy first half in which they turned the ball over three times to completely dominate the third quarter, outscoring Ridgeland 31-0, to set the tone for a convincing 45-21 victory to open the season.
After the wild and eventful first half, the game was tied 14-14, but Calhoun (1-0) came out and immediately drove down the field with Zack Fuller punching in a five-yard touchdown run to put his team out front. The Jackets never looked back after that. They racked up 24 more points before the final buzzer sounded in the third quarter, and Ridgeland (0-1) was never able to get back in the game.
Calhoun coach Hal Lamb said his team showed resiliency to turn things around after a tough first half and perform up to their capability in the third quarter.
“In the first half, we just didn’t play very well, especially offensively,” said Lamb. “Our defense kept us in the game. Three turnovers are really unusual for us. I thought we just needed to settle in at the half. I told our guys that it was about executing, and we came out and executed better in the third quarter. We didn’t do anything differently in the third quarter with our scheme, we just executed and played with a little more fire. I thought we wore them down in the second half too. I knew it would be a second-half kind of, and we did what we needed to do in that second half.”
Following Fuller’s first touchdown of the third quarter, he once again found the end zone two plays later from 11 yards out after his defensive teammate Dawson Hamby recovered a fumble that was forced by Josh Hales on a sack.
After getting another stop, the Calhoun offense went to work once again and scored on a 36-yard touchdown pass from Gavin Gray to Luke Moseley, which was one of two TD passes for Gray on the night. The senior finished with 376 yards through the air on 30-of-45 passes with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
To finish off the third quarter onslaught, Calhoun got a 27-yard field goal from Eduardo Fajardo and a 23-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Davis Allen. The Jackets forced five turnovers on the night with interceptions from Allen, Payton Morrow, Brannon Spector and Ethan Crump to go with Hamby’s fumble recovery.
“We knew going in that our defense was going to be our strong suit especially early in the season, and they proved that tonight,” said Lamb. “They were able to force some turnovers and do what they needed to do to help us take control of the game tonight. Overall, I thought it was a really good game for us for the opener. We’ve got a long way to go, but I think this team is just going to keep getting better.”
The game started with Ridgeland scoring on their opening drive thanks to a 24-yard touchdown pass from Tanner Hill to Jordan Blackwell to put the Panthers on top early. Blackwell had a great night at running back with 142 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown on the ground and three catches for 41 yards and touchdown receiving. Hill threw for 173 yards and two touchdowns to go with four interceptions.
After the teams traded several turnovers following the opening score with Ridgeland getting two interceptions from King Mason Jr. and a fumble recovery from Jeremiah Turner, Calhoun evened the scored at 7-7 with a seven-yard touchdown run from Jonkell Tolbert.
The Panthers got a 42-yard TD scamper from Blackwell a few minutes later to go back ahead at 14-7, but Calhoun answered with a score on a 28-yard touchdown pass from Gray to Brannon Spector, who was one of two Jackets receivers with 100-yard nights. Moseley had 117 yards on 10 catches, and Spector had 103 yards on eight catches. Bralin Barton also had 79 yards on four catches.
Fuller led Calhoun in rushing with 62 yards on 11 carries with two touchdowns.
Ridgeland had one last drive to end the first half but came up just short as they had a receiver tackled at the Calhoun one-yard line as time expired.
The Jackets will have a week off before returning home to face Therrell (Atl.) at Phil Reeve Stadium on Aug. 31.
“We’ve got to get better this next week,” said Lamb. “We’ve got to take every day and try to get better as well as heal up some. It was a physical game early on so we’ve got some bumps and bruises. I think the sky’s the limit for this team. If we stay together and healthy, I think we can do some special things.”