With each passing week, the Caledonia High School football team chalks up another first. Now, the Cavaliers stand two wins away from the biggest first of all: a first state championship.
But first, Senatobia will make the trip to Caledonia on Friday for an MHSAA Class 4A semifinal game, and the Warriors figure to be a difficult nut to crack.
Senatobia was riding an eight-game winning streak before an 8-7 loss to Clarksdale to end the regular season, a defeat that cost the Warriors a region title. If that bothered them, they haven’t shown it, averaging 40 points in their three playoff wins, including one of their most impressive performances of the season: a 45-6 drubbing of Itawamba Agricultural in the quarterfinals.
That score caught the attention of the Cavaliers; it was Itawamba that handed them their only loss on the field this season, a 28-14 defeat on Oct. 22 that decided the Region1 title.
But, like the Warriors, the Cavaliers have rebounded nicely from losing out on the region title — it would have been the first in program history — to do something no Caledonia team had done before: win a playoff game.
Now the Cavs have won three, and they get more impressive each week. First came a solid 31-24 win over Kosciusko, a team they were 2-8 against all time. Then was a 27-8 victory over a Pontotoc team that had been 10-0 against them. Finally, last week, the Cavs dominated the second half of a 27-7 win over Louisville, a team they had not beaten in seven tries.
Confidence should not be a problem. But, once again, the opponent appears formidable.
“First thing I notice when I turn the film on is they have a relentless spirit,” Caledonia coach Michael Kelly said. “Their whole team plays and competes really hard.”
The Warriors are allowing slightly more than 14 points per game, and they have held an opponent to fewer than 10 points six times. That includes last week’s 45-6 pounding of Itawamba Agricultural, the only team to have defeated Caledonia on the field this season.
“Defensively, they swarm to the football,” Kelly said. “They don’t stay blocked very long.”
Holding blocks was something the Cavaliers did extremely well in the second half last week against Louisville. They might need to be even better this week.
On offense, Senatobia has scored at least 27 points in every game but one since an opening-night loss — an 8-7 loss to Clarksdale on Oct. 28 that decided the region title. Otherwise, the Warriors have been consistent, scoring between 27 and 42 points in their 11 wins.
“Offensively, they have a few dynamic playmakers that can score from anywhere on the field,” Kelly said. “They do a great job of getting the ball to them.”
The Warriors will have to do that against a Caledonia defense that picked off three passes last week against a quarterback who had thrown for almost 2,000 yards this season.
Teams don’t get this far without being good; they just have to be good on Friday night to advance. This is the first meeting between Senatobia and Caledonia, and the Warriors’ 2004 championship is the only state title between them. One of them will be playing for that next week.
“We need to execute at a high level and certainly not turn the ball over,” Kelly said.
Madison Central (11-1) at Starkville (12-1): Unlike Caledonia and Senatobia, the Jaguars and Yellow Jacket have met and have met regularly. The last time, in fact, was just nine weeks ago. And it was one to remember.
The Jaguars took a 21-7 lead at halftime on the strength of three rushing touchdowns, but Starkville quarterback Trey Petty went to work in the second half. His rushing touchdowns of 9 and 2 yards during the third quarter tied the game before Madison Central took back the lead on an 80-yard touchdown pass from Vic Sutton to Isaiah Washington with 5:52 left.
Petty then hit Braylon Burnside for a 23-yard score with 3:27 to go to tie the game. The Jackets got the ball back, and Petty found senior wide receiver Johnathan Lampkin in the end zone from 18 yards out to put the Yellow Jackets up 35-28 after the fifth extra point of the night from Trey Eaves with just 24 seconds left.
That’s the kind of game neither team forgets.
Since the loss to Starkville, Madison Central has scored 38 points per game and allowed 8.8 as the Jaguars matched the Jackets’ 6-1 region record and then defeated Oxford for the second time this season last week. Sutton hurt his knee in that one and might not be healthy for the rematch with the Yellow Jackets.
Madison Central averages 240 yards rushing and 153 yards passing per game, but each of these teams knows how good the other is already.
Neshoba Central (12-0) at West Point (10-2): This is West Point’s time of year, and the Green Wave have played in the past five state championship games. The way they have dispatched their two playoff opponents indicates they intend to play in a sixth and start a new title streak after losing to West Jones last year.
The Rockets are unbeaten, but their two closest games have come in the playoffs against Lake Cormorant and Lafayette. Both of those games were three-point affairs, while the Green Wave defeated the Gators by 19 and shut out the Commodores. A look at other common opponents also looks good for West Point: the Green Wave rolled past Ridgeland (40-7) and Vicksburg (42-6), while the Rockets had one-score games against Ridgeland (42-35) and Vicksburg (10-6).
None of that guarantees anything, of course. Both teams have several weapons, with the Green Wave’s punishing ground game featuring quarterback Kahnen Daniels, Cameron Young, Keshawn Henley and Jaquantis Harris carrying the ball, while the Rockets gain almost twice as many yards through the air as on the ground. Senior quarterback Eli Anderson has thrown for 39 touchdowns, but he will be facing a defense that has two shutouts and three other games of allowing single-digit points.
And, again, this is West Point’s time of year.
Bay Springs (10-3) at West Lowndes (10-2): These teams bring very different histories to this game. West Lowndes’ two playoff victories give them six all time, and the Panthers had not won more than one playoff game in a season since 1992. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, have a 29-24 playoff record and have been state finalists three times.
But the current Bay Springs players don’t have quite that much experience, unless the current seniors played as freshmen in 2018 when the Bulldogs reached the Class 2A semifinals. They were one and done in the postseason the past two years, including a wild 56-54 loss to Wesson last season.
This is Bay Springs’ first year in 1A after 32 seasons as a 2A program, but that shouldn’t worry the Panthers. They faced exactly that situation against Taylorsville last week; the Tartars won last year’s 2A final 42-0, moved to 1A this season and were dispatched by the Panthers 36-21.
Both teams can score; the Bulldogs are averaging 30.6 points per game, and the Panthers check in at 36.1. But the Bulldogs feature a truly great defense. Bay Springs has shut out six opponents, including Ethel and Lumberton in the playoffs, and have allowed just 58 points all season. And 26 of those came in one game, a loss to undefeated Scott Central, which is in the 2A semifinals. If Fred Rice, JaQuavious Tate, Marquez Shelton and Decamby Willis can find their way to the end zone against that group, the Panthers could be playing in the state final for the first time.