Calhoun started 2019 with a bang Thursday night in the Corky Kell Classic after a 38-8 victory over Ridgeland to kick off the GHSA football season. It was the first victory under new Calhoun head coach Clay Stephenson.
“I'm so proud of these seniors,” Stephenson said. “They've waited their turn and this was the time they got to come out and show out in front of their community, in front of their school, in front of their families. Very proud of them and look forward to many more things to come.”
After a back-and-forth scoreless first quarter, Calhoun found its groove early in the second, when senior David Braden Jr. picked off Ridgeland quarterback Nathan Carver in Panther territory.
One play later, the Yellow Jackets pulled out a trick play card from their deck as Calhoun senior quarterback Jake Morrow found junior Jake Prather on the right side. Prather, who is the backup quarterback to Morrow, then threw 28 yards down the right sideline to a wide open Ethan Crump for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
“We were very close on offense the whole first few drives,” Stephenson said. “We were one block or two blocks ... away and we expected that. When you're in your first game speed, playing against a good opponent like Ridgeland, you expect ... to have to handle some adversity and I feel like we did that really well.”
Calhoun came out strong in the second half and set the tone early, as Morrow and Calhoun junior running back Jerrian Hames guided the offense down the field on a six play, 80-yard drive. After a false start penalty, Hames bounced to the outside, turned on the afterburners and took off 53 yards to the end zone to make the game a three-score possession, 24-0.
“I just saw the block set up the perfect way and I knew how to set it up myself and do me,” Hames said. “That’s what I do.”
The Jackets marched down the field on a 10-play, 87-yard drive on their next possession that was capped off by a Hames 8-yard TD rush, his second of the game.
“Our (offensive) line, they worked hard all year and I told them ‘Just keep pushing, we're going to get it,’” Hames said.
The Yellow Jacket defense halted Ridgeland in its tracks multiple times, creating two turnovers.
With less than a minute remaining before halftime, Calhoun senior Grant Gilmer intercepted a deep Ridgeland pass down the left side and returned it to the Panther 37-yard line. That set up an Eduardo Fajardo field goal and a 17-0 halftime advantage.
Calhoun’s defense allowed 134 total yards to Ridgeland, including just 82 through 36 minutes.
"Defense was awesome," Stephenson said. "Coach (Terry) Morrow did an awesome job of adjusting. (Ridgeland) came out in a wildcat that we hadn't seen on film, but we thought they might do that. Coach Morrow and the staff prepared for it this week and then they came out and didn't miss a beat and executed the game plan really well."
The Yellow Jackets are off next week as they prepare for their home opener on Sept. 6 against the Therrell Panthers. Kickoff from Phil Reeve Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m. Ridgeland will prepare for a road game at Troup County Aug. 30.