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By RUSSELL TURNER
It’s amazing what a little success can do to turn things around.
The GCHS Wildcats appeared to be on life support when they limped into Quitman two weeks ago, sitting at 0-3 with a host of key players injured and watching from the sidelines. But, the move of senior receiver Drake Henderson to quarterback created a spark in the Wildcat offense and led to the team’s first win of the year.
That spark turned into a full-blown, five-alarm fire on Friday. Looking to go into a bye week on a high note, GCHS got big plays in every facet of the game and cruised to a dominant, crowd-pleasing 50-29 win over visiting Gautier.
The win, and a new-found explosiveness by the GCHS offense, could not have come at a better time for the Wildcats, who will enjoy a break from the action this week as they prepare for region play to begin next Friday.
“I am so proud of these guys,” Head Coach Mike King said. “Despite the setbacks and the 0-3 start to the season, they didn’t hit the panic button and stayed the course.”
“The defense has been steady for us all season and played well again against Gautier. We simplified a few things on offense and have a running back rotation that is working really well with no one guy having to carry the load and the offense is really responding.”
Overall, GCHS put up 485 total yards of offense against the Gators with 398 of that coming from the running game. Senior Anthony Calhoun was the big star for the Cats, posting 159 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries. Calhoun’s performance wasn’t the only career-best for the Cats on Friday as sophomore Dallarus Cooper added 89 yards on 11 carries for his most productive game to date. Henderson ran for 58 yards and two TDs on eight carries, while freshman K.J. Miller had his best game yet with 71 yards and a TD, also on eight carries. Freshman Devin Dueitt got in on the action as well, averaging a clean 5-yards per carry on his four attempts in the win.
“We didn’t do a lot of things different than we’ve been doing in terms of the types of plays we were running, we just executed at a much higher level,” King said. “We still have a lot of room for improvement, that’s for sure, but I am pleased with the way we competed and executed our game plan.”
Gautier looked strong early in the game, but a nice opening drive stalled and a field goal attempt fell short.
The Cats’ first possession stalled near midfield as well, but a perfectly executed quick kick off the foot of Henderson pinned the Gators down at their own 2-yard-line. The GCHS defense did its job and forced Gautier to punt from its own endzone. Miller made a great play on the punt, catching the kick on the run and returning it down inside the Gators’ 20. Calhoun had a nice run on fourth down to keep the drive alive and finished things off one play later with a 9-yard TD run to start the scoring with 10:53 left in the second quarter.
The Wildcats pushed the lead to 14-0 on their next possession, driving 80 yards in nine plays, thanks to big runs by Calhoun and sophomore Dallarus Cooper. Henderson found the endzone on a 3-yard run and followed that with a 2-point-conversion run with just under six minutes left in the half.
The Cats finished the half with another big defensive stand and a 91-yard march in the final two minutes to push the lead to 22-0. Cooper busted free for a 44-yard run and Calhoun found the endzone on a 1-yard plunge with 22 seconds left on the clock. Henderson added his second 2-point-conversion to put the Wildcats in control.
“I thought we really came on strong in the second quarter and had some big plays,” King said. “That was big heading into halftime, knowing we were going to get the ball to start the second half.”
GCHS picked up right where it left off to start the third quarter. A 34-yard return by Cooper on the opening kickoff set the Cats up in Gator territory. Four plays later, Henderson turned a busted play into a nifty run down the visitor’s sideline for a 15-yard TD run. The PAT failed, but with just 1:28 off the clock, Greene County had pushed the lead to 28-0.
The Gators showed their explosiveness on the next possession, taking just two plays to find the endzone. Jordan Irving’s 51-yard run closed the gap to 28-7 with 9:56 left in the third quarter.
With a spark of momentum on their side, the Gators attempted an on-side kick, but an alert play by junior Levi McArn saved the day for GCHS and set the offense up in good shape at the Greene County 46. That was close enough for Calhoun, who took the next handoff and outran everyone 54 yards to push the lead to 34-7.
The outcome never seemed threatened after that point, despite Gautier getting touchdowns off a long kick-off return and a big-passing play on their next two possessions. The Wildcats answered each time and pushed their lead to 42-7 in the third quarter with a 55-yard TD strike from Henderson to sophomore H-back Cameron Dunnam and 2-point run by Henderson.
GCHS finished the night with a 9-play, 49-yard drive that was capped by a 6-yard run by Miller with 6:54 left to play. Henderson connected with Dunnam on a short pass for the 2-point-conversion.
Gautier added a late TD in the final minutes to push the final to 50-29.
With the running game providing plenty of firepower, Henderson didn’t have to look to throw often. Still, he had success when he did and finished with 87 yards and a TD on 4-of-8 passing. Calhoun had one catch for nine yards, Miller had one catch for eight yards and Dunnam had two catches for 70 yards and a touchdown.
Cooper finished with 126 all-purpose yards, while Miller’s 20-yard punt return pushed his total to 99 yards on the night.
Defensively, senior linebacker Jaheim Cooper led GCHS with nine tackles and an interception. Senior linebacker Ladon Woullard was close behind with eight stops on the night. Seniors Malachi Graham and Hunter McLeod, in his first game back from injury since opening week, each added six tackles. Senior Joe Dearman and sophomore Kye Seymour added five tackles apiece.
The Wildcats next game will be an Oct. 4 Homecoming matchup with their region foes from Sumrall.