TUPELO — The New Hope High School football team took pride last season in its ability to deliver a big play when it needed one.
The Trojans” knack for timing helped them beat Jackson Callaway and Ridgeland in dramatic fashion and advance to the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North Half title game.
Those big plays were nowhere to be found Friday night in the 2010 season opener against Tupelo.
Instead, Ashton Shumpert took center stage for the Golden Wave, rushing for two touchdowns and returning an interception for another to lead Tupelo to a 33-23 victory.
Quarterback Luke Hobson hit a 61-yard pass to Matt McIntosh and an 80-yard pass to Terrell Pinson for touchdowns to help Tupelo (1-0) avenge a 28-17 loss to New Hope last year in Columbus.
The scowl on New Hope coach Michael Bradley”s face 10 minutes after the game told the story for his team.
“I am very disappointed in every facet of the game,” Bradley said. “We weren”t able to do anything we wanted to offensively or defensively. If there was a big play to be made, they made it. All of the credit in the world goes to them.”
From the ejection of Curtis Shirley in the first quarter, to an inability to make big plays, to an ejection of JoJo Reeves in the fourth quarter, little went right for the Trojans.
The initial series epitomized New Hope”s fortunes in the first half. The Trojans had a false start on first down, lost 4 yards on a stop by defensive lineman P.J. Jones, and had an incompletion that should have been intercepted on third down.
“I think we were unfocused and didn”t have our mind-set ready on the game,” New Hope senior running back Terrance Dentry said. “At the beginning, I don”t think we showed too much because of our lack of focus.”
Tupelo didn”t capitalize until the second quarter, but it made the most of its chances. After New Hope failed to convert a third-and-inches from its 27, Tupelo regrouped from a block in the back penalty on the return and needed seven plays for Shumpert to burst up the middle virtually untouched for a 5-yard touchdown run.
The Golden Wave missed a 50-yard field goal on their next drive but cashed in later in the quarter. New Hope appeared to have quarterback Zak Thrasher set up for a misdirection pass play, as he spun to his right. But Shumpert rushed in from the left and jumped in the air to deflect the touch pass. The ball came down into Shumpert”s hands and he raced 67 yards for another score.
“Shumpert is a guy who you expect to make big plays,” Tupelo coach David Bradberry said.
The 61-yard bomb from Hobson to McIntosh with 24.6 seconds left before halftime was the final dagger that sent the Trojans into the locker room reeling.
“They whipped us on the line of scrimmage,” Bradley said. “That was very surprising to me. I did not think they would be able to do that to us. Good job to them. They set the tone and they set the tempo. They took it from us.”
New Hope regained some of its swagger in the second half, moving the football on the ground and through the air, while its defense showed signs of holding. But Hobson”s 80-yard scoring pass to Pinson followed New Hope”s first score — a 4-yard run by Dentry — to make it 27-8.
“We have some explosive people,” Bradberry said. “Luke threw the ball well tonight, and we have a couple of wideouts who can run and they made some big plays. You don”t go into a ballgame thinking you”re going to make as many as we made.”
The Trojans looked to regain the momentum when Thrasher hit Dillon Hawkins on a 57-yard scoring strike that helped cut the deficit to 27-16. New Hope”s defense held Tupelo on its next series and the Trojans appeared to have life with 7 minutes, 3 seconds remaining, but a dropped pass on first down and a fumble — one of five New Hope turnovers — two plays later gave the ball back to the Golden Wave.
Shumpert was only too happy to cash in, carrying the ball all four times on the drive and capping the jaunt with a 2-yard touchdown.
Bradley was pleased the Trojans fought hard in the second half, but he had no explanation for why his team started so slowly and didn”t appear mentally ready to play.
“Ultimately it is my fault. I will take responsibility for it,” Bradley said. “I obviously didn”t do my job.
“If this doesn”t get their attention, nothing will. We lost to a team I think we should have beat. Should have doesn”t get it in this game.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.