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From Staff Reports
Sometimes in sports, a team just needs a spark to get things going in the right direction.
Coach Mike King’s GCHS Wildcats appeared to find theirs last Friday night on an unexpected road trip to St. Martin. Now, they hope to bottle up that much-needed momentum and carry it with them this Friday when they travel to Perry Central to take on the Bulldogs.
Last week, GCHS was coming off back-to-back losses to start the season, including a 37-0 loss at Hancock the week before in which positives were hard to find. So, King and his staff shook up the lineup and made minor changes to their game plan on both sides of the ball. The result could not have been more dramatic as the Wildcats made one big play after another on offense, defense and special teams, in a thrilling 49-48 overtime win over the Yellow Jackets.
“Wow, what a great win,” King said not long after senior quarterback Conner West found his way into the endzone on an all-or-nothing 2-point-conversion to seal his team’s first win of the season. “Just like we had it scripted, right?”
West’s final play of the game was one of several he made in his first start as the team’s quarterback since early in his sophomore season.
“Conner is a competitor,” King said. “He’s the same kid that put up 27 points in a big game on the basketball court and the same guy that dominated on the pitching rubber before he got injured last year.”
“He stepped right in and brought that same confidence and maturity to the quarterback position for us and not only did he step up big, everyone else did too.”
West finished the game with 148 yards passing and four total touchdowns to his credit. His second throw of the game was gorgeous 49-yard dime to junior K.J. Miller that answered an opening scoring drive by the Yellow Jackets and tied the game at 7-7 midway through the first quarter. He added touchdown throws of 47 and 20 yards and finished the night with a 1-yard TD run in overtime followed by the decisive 2-point plunge into the endzone.
“I was so pleased with the way he played, considering he had only gotten limited reps in practice during the week,” King said. “I joked around that he had more reps in the game than he had in practice during the days leading up to it, which is crazy to say but it’s actually true.”
But, West wasn’t the only Wildcat to step up big on Friday. Miller, who was on the receiving end of the 20-yard TD just before halftime, had a huge game. The junior looked like the player coaches know he can be against St. Martin had touchdown runs of 38 and 39 yards in the second half to finish with four total TDs and 194 all-purpose yards on the night.
Senior Cam Dunnam had a big night as well. Dunnam’s 47-yard TD reception gave GCHS a 22-13 lead in the second quarter and his 9-yard catch and run set up the Wildcats’ TD in overtime.
Sophomore Keenan Franks, who had been the starting quarterback prior to West taking over, had a strong game as well. He had an 8-yard reception and finished with 101 yards rushing. He took snaps at quarterback on several occasions and each time he came up with a big run to finish with 101 rushing yards on the night.
“Conner was the catalyst so to speak to get everything going,” King said. “The interesting thing is that there was kind of a renewed sense of hope on the team when we told the players the approach we were going to take.”
“I think the players sensed that we needed to shake things up and so the buy-in was there from them. Thankfully, things went well early and just started to steamroll for us in a good way instead of how things went in the first two games when they steamrolled in a bad way.”
After St. Martin answered West’s first TD throw with a nice, sustained drive to take a 13-7 lead, the Wildcats got a spark on special teams. Senior Dallarus Cooper fielded the ensuing kick at his own 1-yard line and returned it 99 yards to help give GCHS its first lead. The Cats extended the lead to 28-13 before halftime in part due to another big play on special teams. Senior Nik Wilson blocked a 42-yard field goal attempt and six plays later West and Miller hooked up for their second TD with 19 seconds left on the first half clock.
Wrapping up a solid all-around performance by the special teams was the field goal unit and freshman kicker Coby King, who connected on 5-of-6 extra-point attempts.
“The crazy thing is that is the only time their kicker didn’t kick it into the endzone all game,” King said. “And, Cooper was able to take advantage of it for a huge play.”
“The blocked field goal was a big play too and set us up with the chance to extend our lead.”
The Wildcats got the ball to start the third quarter and pushed the lead to 35-13 on the first of Miller’s two TD runs. St. Martin answered with a scoring drive on their first possession of the second half. But, after a big fourth down defensive stop by the Cats on the first play of the fourth quarter, Miller broke loose for his second scoring run to give GCHS a 41-19 lead.
But, St. Martin still didn’t quit. They connected on a deep TD pass to close the gap to 41-27 and after forcing a quick 3-and-out by Greene County, made it a one-possession game with another big TD pass. They drove the length of the field after forcing a GCHS turnover and tied the game on a 33-yard touchdown pass with just 1:10 remaining.
King decided not to push the envelope as time expired in regulation and it appeared that decision might backfire as St. Martin scored on the first play of overtime. With the PAT they retook the lead, at 48-41, for the first time since the first quarter. With the pressure on, West and his squad answered with a TD of their own and this time King was the aggressor, opting to go for the 2-point-conversion and the win.
Cats look to build on momentum against Perry Central
Just like West’s move to quarterback provided the spark for the Cats’ first win of the year, King is hopeful that first win will provide a spark his team can ride through the second half of the season and the all-important region games that will follow this week’s trip to New Augusta to take on the Bulldogs of Perry Central.
“One of the things we talked about before last week’s game is that I honestly do want these guys to have fun,” King said Monday as his team began preparations for PCHS. “I want them to make great memories and for playing football to be a good experience for them. And, I want them to play with excitement and enthusiasm, but when you don’t have anything seemingly going well for you it is hard to do that.”
“We were fortunate to able to get a few good things going early on at St. Martin and that led to us making our own breaks and our guys loosening up and playing with excitement. There hadn’t been a whole lot of that for us. Hopefully, we can continue to play loose and build on that momentum this week.”
The Cats will need that momentum as they take on the Bulldogs, who are 2-1 in the games they have played and will be eager to knock off their 4A neighbors. First year coach Craig Cluff and his team defeated Richton 22-6 to start the season and were solid in a 26-8 win over Amite County last Friday. They sandwiched a 6-26 loss at home to Northeast Jones and had to cancel their Sept. 3 matchup with Enterprise-Clarke.
“They have very good athletes like they do typically,” King said of Friday’s opponents. “They will have a lot of guys going both ways and that should play into our favor, but we know they are going to be ready to play.”
“They have really good players and I have a lot of respect for Coach Cluff, who I’ve known for some time now. I know he’ll do a good job of getting his team prepared. We’re looking forward to the test and to hopefully making this something of a rivalry game each year.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday at New Augusta. Tickets will be available at the gate.