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By RUSSELL TURNER
The Greene County Wildcats made the long trip to Kiln last Friday looking to bounce back from a disappointing second half performance in their opener against George County with a solid showing against 6A Hancock High School.
They left the Coast with an even worse taste in their mouths and looking to regroup after a lackluster 37-0 loss to the Hawks, in a game in which nothing seemed to go the Cats’ way.
“Honestly, I feel like the team we played was bigger, more physical and better organized than the team we saw on tape leading up to Friday,” King said. “I have to tip my hat to them for the way they played and for their conditioning and grit.”
The inability to get a defensive stop in key situations was a big issue for the Wildcats in the first half. That was compounded by turnovers, dropped passes and mistakes by GCHS on the offensive side of the ball. The Hawks took the opening kickoff and looked in mid-season form as they marched downfield and took an early lead on a 25-yard TD run by senior Camron Miller. Unfortunately for the GCHS defenders, they found themselves right back out on the field with their backs against the wall as the Wildcats lost a fumble on their first play from scrimmage. Less than two minutes later Hancock had pushed the score to 14-7 on a 1-yard plunge by senior quarterback Brandon King.
The Cats got one of their few sparks of the game on their next possession when junior K.J. Miller hauled in a pass from sophomore quarterback Keenan Franks and nearly broke the play for a touchdown. Miller was pulled down after a 48-yard pickup and the GCHS stalled four plays later at the Hawks’ 26-yard-line.
After a couple of big run plays, the Hawks pushed their lead to 20-0 on a 5-yard TD run on the first play of the second quarter. Another fumble by GCHS on the first snap after the kickoff gave Hancock the football at the Wildcat 24. A pass to the goal line and a 1-yard plunge by senior Pierre Fowler pushed the lead to 27-0 with 10:59 left in the first half.
They pushed the lead to 34-0 with a 95-yard drive that featured several big third-down conversions. GCHS had a golden opportunity to get on the board late in the half, but officials ruled senior running back Dallarus Cooper fumbled the ball prior to crossing the goal line on what appeared to be a fourth down TD run. The Hawks recovered the loose ball in the endzone for a touchback.
“The way things had been going for us, I knew they were going to rule it as a touchback,” King said. “No excuses, but that was just indicative of the way our night was going.”
The Hawks added a field goal in the fourth quarter to push the final to 37-0, but the Cats performed better on both sides of the ball in the second half.
“I thought we started having success defensively in the third quarter,” King said. “And, I think our conditioning and pre-game preparation, in terms of hydration and nutrition, was much better and noticeable in the second half.”
“Those are really the positives to take away from the game. Otherwise, we’ve got some adjustments to make.”
Leading tacklers in the effort were Devin Dueitt with 11 tackles, including a sack and another tackle for a loss. B.J. Johnson finished with four tackles and also caused a fumble.
Defensive Coordinator Tim Jordan said while he wasn’t happy with Friday’s outcome, he is seeing improvement each week from his defensive unit.
“We feel like we are making progress and are staying the course,” Jordan said. “We look for effort at this moment and we are seeing that on game film all the way through the fourth quarter.”
“Defense is (about) alignment and effort to get to the football and we are getting that from our players.”
Another 6A opponent looms as the St. Martin visits Wildcat Stadium this Friday
If adjustments are coming, they have to come quickly.
The Cats have just two warm-up games left before kicking off their region schedule the first week of October. The first of those two opponents is yet another 6A school, St. Martin, who will roll into Wildcat Stadium this Friday looking for their second win of the season.
The Yellow Jackets’ season-opener against Stone County was cancelled due to COVID. They gave up 479 rushing yards to Vancleave in a 44-28 Week 2 loss at home, but rebounded with a 28-8 road win over West Marion last week.
The Yellow Jackets are led offensively by seniors Aden Burden and Cam Hallahan. Burden (#8) has rushed for 189 yards and a TD on 27 carries, while Hallahan (#3) has completed 27-of-43 passes for 388 yards and five scores. Sophomore Noreel White (#2) has two of those TD catches and leads the team with 10 receptions for 148 yards.
Defensively, St. Martin is led by senior Evan Smith (#6) and sophomores Xander Krone (#7) and Gavin Kallen (#4). The trio has nearly half of the team’s tackles thus far.
King says the key to this week’s game isn’t who the Yellow Jackets will suit up, but which group of Wildcats will show up to play.
“We are still in the evaluation process with our team after missing those first two games of the season,” King said. “We will make some adjustments this week to personnel and to our schemes on both sides of the ball.”
“The main thing for us will be to play well and not hurt ourselves with turnovers, so we can see how the adjustments we are making work out.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday on Johnny Ainsworth Field.