One win can work wonders.
A week ago, the Caledonia High School football team was mired in a losing streak that spanned two coaches and dated to 2008.
This week, the community, school, and Confederates are buzzing about the team”s chance to do something that hasn”t happened since 2005: reaching the playoffs.
At 1-6 and, more importantly, 1-0 in Class 4A, Region 4, Caledonia enters its game against Houston at 7 tonight looking to solidify its chances of earning one of the region”s top four playoff spots. A victory against the Hilltoppers (1-6, 0-1) would keep the Confederates atop the region standings with games remaining against Noxubee County (1-0), Louisville (1-0), and Kosciusko (0-1).
“We”re trying to get into the playoffs,” Caledonia first-year coach Ricky Kendrick said. “What that means down the road is you have to keep winning.”
Kendrick said he has talked to his players about their playoff chances. A third or a fourth seed from the region would mean Caledonia would travel for its first-round matchup. But Kendrick, who last worked as an assistant coach to Pat Byrd at Amory High, said the Confederates want to play host to a playoff game.
Kendrick has talked with that confidence ever since he replaced David Boykin as head coach. Even though he came to the school late in the summer, Kendrick didn”t back away from the challenge of snapping a 19-game losing streak that grew to 25 before a 17-14 overtime victory against Amory last week snapped the run. He stressed to his players it was a matter of when, not if they would snap the skid and reverse the program”s fortunes.
Kendrick knows one win doesn”t make a season and that his team still has plenty of work to be done, but he said the players have made significant strides and continue to play extremely hard, particularly on defense.
“Some people might say (the win) was a fluke, it was lucky, it should have never happened, it was an upset, and all of those things,” Kendrick said. “But when you play defense as well as we played the other night it is not a fluke.”
Caledonia eschewed conventional wisdom and went with a smaller, faster defense against Amory. Kendrick said his plan was to put as much pressure possible on quarterback Forest Williams and force him to hesitate and to check off receivers. The strategy worked as the Confederates hounded Williams all night.
Kendrick praised the play of twins Jonathan and Peter Pagaduan, who were backup linebackers before they were moved to the defensive front last week.
“They were like gnats,” Kendrick said. “They had never played the front and probably weigh about 130 pounds. But they were relentless.”
Kendrick also highlighted the play of Kevin Kugel, who kicked a 32-yard field goal in overtime for what proved to be the winning points, Cole Carter, who made a key catch in his second week at tight end, and Onterrio Lowery, who had key contributions running the ball on a scoring drive.
“Overall, the kids just kept going and going despite the past and other things,” Kendrick said. “We played different (against Amory). We came back with the effort we had in the first two or three games. The kids kind of got a little disheartened, and we kind of challenged them during the week that if you make a new commitment it ain”t over, and it is like a brand new season. The kids came out and played hard.
“I know Amory made some mistakes and we made many mistakes, but they don”t even score if we don”t make mistakes. Our defense just shut them down. … You could say if we play them 100 more times maybe they beat us 99 times, but this one is the one that matters.”
Kendrick could say the same thing about tonight”s game. He didn”t want to get too far ahead of himself, but he believes good things will continue to happen for his program provided the players believe and play as hard as they did against Amory.
“It felt great (to get the first win),” Kendrick said. “When you have invested so much time and energy into something, you hope to see some returns on your investment. It is a good feeling for our coaching staff, our kids, and our community. To get that losing streak off your back and get that behind you and move forward was our first goal. Now, hopefully, we can start establishing some new goals and new things for Caledonia football.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.