CALEDONIA — Michael Kelly saw the team he wants the 2018 Caledonia High School football squad to grow up to be.
Shannon leaned largely on the experience and skill of 23 seniors to earn a 52-14 victory against Caledonia in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A, Region 2 opener for both teams.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Kelly said. “That is a mature football team over there and we’re a young football team. I didn’t like how we played in the first half. We didn’t come out. It is almost like we folded the tent right of the bat. That is on me. I have to get us versus good competition to be able to take the field and be ready to play.”
Shannon (4-3, 1-0 region), which opened the season with losses to Corinth, Horn Lake, and Noxubee County, used a strong passing performance from senior quarterback Jordan Gilleylen (18-for-21, 346 yards, five touchdowns) to win its fourth-straight game.
Shannon set the tone in the first 10 minutes, 2 seconds with a six-play touchdown drive and a three-play touchdown drive. Gilleylen was 6-for-6 on the drives and had five completions for 12 yards or more. A 79-yard strike to Javis Wren accounted for the second score.
Shannon coach Darryl Carter said the Red Raiders hope to capitalize on their experience a year after losing to Louisville in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs.
“I got them after their eighth-grade season and in the offseason I took them and worked with them since then,” Carter said. “We have spent a lot of time together. Last summer, we probably won about every seven-on-seven that was around and we went to Canton, Ohio, for the national championship and we lost to a team out of Florida. We have put a lot of time together, and the offensive line does a good job and stays together.”
Seniors Erick Rogers (eight catches, 144 yards) and Wren (seven for 178) proved to be too much for the Confederates (2-4, 0-1) to handle in the secondary. Inexperience in that group also hurt Caledonia’s chances against an opponent that looked crisp all night on evening, especially when it went to a no-huddle attack.
Still, Caledonia hung in trailing 14-0. The Confederates used a 60-yard run by Darquez Williams late in the first quarter to spark their first scoring drive. Brandon Edmondson hit Anthony Triplett on a 4-yard scoring pass with 9:35 to go in the second quarter. Wes Rollins’ kick made it 14-7.
“I liked it,” Kelly said. “We gave ourselves a chance.’
But Shannon answered with a 14-play, 80-yard drive that showcased its strengths. The Red Raiders mixed passing and running in converting two third downs en route to a 15-yard touchdown pass from Gilleylen to Erick Rogers.
Carter, who was the head football coach at Kemper County prior to taking over at Shannon, said he grew familiar with East Mississippi Community College coach Buddy Stephens’ offense and tries to emulate it with his squad. The Red Raiders might not have Gilleylen get the ball out of his hands every three seconds, but he throws the football downhill and capitalizes on quick hitters out wide that give his receivers opportunities to make plays.
“It is the same thing,” Carter said, when comparing his offense to how EMCC runs its attack. “I spent a lot of time watching EMCC. I also remember Oregon. We are trying to hurry up, get down, and go.”
Shannon even had the mettle to overcome a fumble on a long pass play from Gilleylen to Rogers that erased another potential score. The Red Raiders held the Confederates on three downs and needed only six plays to score in one minute. Gilleylen’s 39-yard pass to Wren as time expired in the quarter was the dagger.
“The one before the half broke our back,” Kelly said. “We just didn’t respond defensively. I don’t think we responded defensively all night.”
With only 10 seniors, Kelly knows his team has room to grow. He hopes to see some of that growth this week in practice as his team prepares to face Mooreville in another Region 2 game. Down the road, Kelly also hopes the Confederates mature into a version of the “salty” Red Raiders that he saw Friday night.
“I think a lot of times you have to tell your kids that’s what it looks like when you grow up,” Kelly said. “That is what playing games and getting them under your belt looks like. I have played that group twice at Columbus and I have seen some of those guys for two and three years. That’s what it is supposed to look like. They had a lot of execution. They don’t miss many. They don’t make many mistakes. That’s what you have to see from our kids in the future. We’re going to get there. I promise the Caledonia fans. I promise the school. We’re going to get there, and we’re going to grow up and be a better football team.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.