Playoffs and senior year is a powerful mix.
The combination can lead to butterflies, upset stomachs, and plenty of wild thoughts before a player takes the field — possibly for the last time.
Those thoughts — and more — swirled through Zak Thrasher”s mind Friday night as he and his teammates prepared to take the field.
“Something happened right before the game when I was going back to break through the paper,” Thrasher said. “From there on, something just turned on and I stayed up and stayed pumped.”
Thrasher threw for 308 yards and three touchdowns to lead the New Hope High School football team to a 46-22 victory against Jackson Callaway in the first round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A playoffs.
The victory sets up another rematch for the Trojans (8-4). New Hope will travel Friday to Ridgeland, which defeated Lake Cormorant, for a 7 p.m. second-round game.
Last year, New Hope defeated Jackson Callaway 34-33 and then went on the road to beat Ridgeland 28-21.
A career night from Thrasher, the senior quarterback, helped keep the Trojans on course to get back to the North State title game. Thrasher admitted he experienced a week filled with anxiety leading up to the rematch against Jackson Callaway. His nerves didn”t show, though, as he completed an 18-yard pass to Johnny Beamon and a 43-yarder to Darius Petty that helped get the Trojans going. Franklin Richardson Jr. capped the 80-yard opening drive with an 8-yard scoring run that ignited the fireworks.
“It could be the last one, and I didn”t want it to end here,” Thrasher said. “I want it to end in Jackson holding up the gold ball.”
New Hope coach Michael Bradley said his offense hit the trifecta early: It got into a rhythm, Thrasher threw the ball well, and the offensive line played one of its best games of the season. The only sack of Thrasher came when he forgot to tell the linemen the Trojans were audibling on the play.
The numbers reflect a dominating performance. Thrasher was 13 of 17 with a 71-yard touchdown pass to Petty, a 23-yard scoring pass to Richardson Jr., and a 38-yard touchdown pass to Beamon.
Each play had a touch of magic.
Thrasher showed the touch of a marksman on the first, dropping a spiral over a defender into the arms of Petty, who streaked down the left sideline for the score.
The second one surprised even Thrasher, who seemed to have run out of time to hit Richardson Jr. on a pattern that took the receiver to the left corner of the end zone. But Thrasher put the ball only where Richardson Jr. could catch it before he ran out of room.
“I guess I was throwing the ball all right,” Thrasher said. “I was surprised, really. I wasn”t expecting to get that one to Frank. I saw Darius beat ”em and I knew that was six points right there. But that one to Frank I just threw it up there and hoped he caught it. It was a lucky throw.”
A 26-yard completion to Petty on third-and-21 kept the drive alive. Thrasher overthrew Terrance Dentry (13 carries, 95 yards) on first down, but he slipped the ball into the seam over a defender and in front of another to allow Petty to make a play that eventually helped the Trojans build a 22-7 lead.
A good bounce and good hands helped Beamon on the third. The senior maintained his balance after contact with a defender and tipped the ball up in the air as he moved from left to right. Beamon stumbled but ran through the ball and completed the touchdown jaunt.
“I thought he made some outstanding throws,” Bradley said. “He did a good job of getting us out of a couple of bad plays. … He did a real good job of being the leader he is supposed to be.”
Back on the sideline, he said to his teammates, “I need to put that on YouTube.”
New Hope”s performance was worthy of that attention as it bottled up Jackson Callaway despite allowing 160 yards to running back Devonte Wright. The Trojans were outmatched size wise up front, but their defense benefited from an explosive offense and held quarterback Carl Brice (5 of 20, 94 yards) in check.
“I was real proud of the effort our guys gave tonight,” Bradley said. “They came out and played with a lot of intensity and a lot of emotion. We had some big plays go well for us early.”
Jackson Callaway coach Daryl Jones, who was the head football coach at Columbus High in 2006-07, praised New Hope for outcoaching and outexecuting his team. He also credited Thrasher for a quick release that prevented the Chargers for rushing his throws.
“He is a seasoned guy and he played well,” Jones said. “He made some good throws, and more than anything his team played for him. The guys made some good runs after the catch.
“Their offensive line did an outstanding job. They had an outstanding game plan.”
New Hope called all the right shots, too. Leading 32-14, Thrasher took a 7-yard loss on the only sack of the night. He regrouped to hit Dentry on a 12-yard gain to set up a fourth-and-1 from the New Hope 32. The Trojans brought in their goal-line formation but went instead with a Thrasher pass to Dentry that covered 48 yards. Two plays later, Petty burst 20 yards for a score that helped extend the margin to 39-14.
Earnest Lang, one of four senior starters on the New Hope offensive line, admitted his group up front made some mistakes but that he thought it played “really, really, good, really good.” He said the effort of Park Stevens, Corey Council, Mike Love, Thomas Fisher, and tight end Lawrence Brown was the unit”s best of the season.
“We came together tonight,” Lang said. “We realized we had a mission to take care of and we took care of it.”
Lang also credited Thrasher for staying in the pocket and believing in his linemen. The result was an offense that clicked on nearly all of its cylinders.
“The switch turned on, or something,” Thrasher said. “We just found the holes in the defense and we were attacking them and going at it.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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