By DAVID MILLER
Special to The Dispatch
All of the motivating mantras football coaches use to navigate 48 minutes of football were in Victory Christian Academy coach Chris Hamm’s arsenal Friday night.
The Eagles, down by 10 late in a shootout against Tabernacle Christian School, had just given up a 70-yard touchdown pass, their fifth play of 35 yards or more conceded to that point.
But having a, “short memory,” and, “not quitting,” are mentalities needed to overcome adversity, and both messages were delivered effectively to the Eagles, who would force and recover a pair of fumbles on back-to-back drives and convert a fourth-down for a score to win 48-46.
“That’s why you don’t quit,” Hamm said. “Last week (a 52-0 loss to Russell Christian), we started out and things went bad and went South in a hurry. They did what they needed to this week.”
Chris McDonald struck first after Tabernacle’s deep touchdown pass put the Torches (2-1) up 46-36 with 3:16 left in the game. McDonald fielded a squibbed kick, broke six tackles and scored. The play laid the emotional groundwork for Victory Christian’s maligned defense, which responded immediately with a forced fumble to set up the winning score – a Brandon Moore 10-yard touchdown pass to Preston Kinard on fourth down.
“First of all, I was hoping [McDonald] would hang on to the ball,” Hamm said. “Watching him give that effort, it’s real easy to have it stripped out, but Chris did an excellent job. Nobody broke down on him and tried to hit him – he just willed it, and it was a big play for us.”
Moore accounted for five touchdowns – three through the air, including the game-winner to Kinard. Hamm said Moore and Kinard “kept their cool” on the fourth-down play. Moore said the play sprung open by exploiting a tendency Tabernacle showed on film and in the game.
“When we watched film, we always noticed the linebackers would come up,” Moore said. “We noticed that, and when [Hamm] told us we were doing a Y-release, all you got to think about is the middle being open, and if they go to the middle, then we got the guy on the dump, and the [Kinard] on the dump was wide open.”
The game-winner was particularly special for Moore, who said he’s been throwing to Kinard since he, “learned what a football was.”
“I didn’t know how to spell it, but I knew what it was,” Moore joked.
Tabernacle didn’t attempt a punt in the game and attempted only squib-kicks on kickoffs. It was a curious strategy, but Tabernacle converted a pair of fourth downs in the first half and scored touchdowns on both drives, including a 36-yard pass from Carson Starkey to Josiah Davis to take a 26-22 lead in the second quarter.
The Torches converted a fourth-and-10 to start the third quarter, but later in the drive, the Eagles (3-1) shut down a fourth-and-8 at their own 36, turning the stand into a 36-32 lead eight plays later.
“Tabernacle is notorious for not punting,” Hamm said. “I think [Tabernacle coach Michael Cox’s] philosophy is that he’s not going to cover the punt that well anyway or gain that much yardage, so we knew they were going to do that – they do it every year. We told our players before the game started, ‘just play the next play.’ Coaches sometimes get caught up in what just happened and trying to coach them, but it’s important to get them to have a short memory and move on to the next play.”
Hamm said he hopes his players use the experience Friday night to propel them against the remaining heavyweights on their schedule – New Life, Tuscaloosa Christian and East Memorial Christian.
“You can talk about it – ‘don’t quit, don’t quit,’ but now they’ve learned it,” Hamm said. “They’ll have to realize the reason we were able to have that score is because we did not quit. We beat this team last year on their field, but we ended in a three-way tie and missed the playoffs. We just have to take care of business, and this game will help, because they’ll have this experience to draw from.”
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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