CALEDONIA — The Caledonia High School defense wanted one last chance.
The Cavaliers forced an Aberdeen fumble at the Bulldogs’ 43-yard line with 2:14 left in Friday’s home game. The turnover gave the Cavs, trailing by five points, a short field and a final shot at a comeback win.
Caledonia’s offense managed just one first down.
The Cavs turned the ball over on downs at the 24 — two yards short of moving the chains — as Aberdeen took over in victory formation.
For the final time Friday, Caledonia’s offense couldn’t back up an admirable defensive performance in a 12-7 loss to Aberdeen (4-1).
“They did everything they were supposed to do,” Caledonia coach Michael Kelly said of his defense. “Offensively, we’ve got to respond, and we’ve got to be able to score and help that side of the ball out. We just can’t do it right now.”
It was the case all night for Caledonia (1-4) in its second consecutive loss after a home win against Holly Springs on Sept. 9. Even when blessed with good field position, the Cavaliers struggled to move the ball.
Their lone touchdown came on a 7-yard, third-quarter run by senior Ladarius Smith, cutting into a 12-0 Aberdeen lead. That score came courtesy of a blocked punt by senior Braden Walters, who put the Cavs at the 8 and set up Smith’s score two plays later.
The play should have shifted momentum, but Caledonia’s ungainly offense couldn’t manage that.
Despite the occasional big play, the Cavaliers couldn’t find much of a rhythm offensively and couldn’t pick up first downs consistently.
“We’ve just got to be able to execute our option offense, and we can’t do it right now,” Kelly said. “We can’t get out of the mesh. We can’t go out of there and read it. We can’t pitch it. We’ve got to get better on that side of the ball.”
Penalties and negative plays nipped Caledonia drives in the bud all night with the Cavs unable to convert in most third-and-long situations. In the fourth quarter, though, Caledonia executed a beautiful reverse run to senior Daniel Wilburn on fourth-and-7, gaining roughly 30 yards and getting down to the Aberdeen 26.
Then the wheels came off.
Senior Zack Gorum was stuffed on a run for no gain. Charlie Sullivan couldn’t hold onto a short swing pass. On a fourth-and-10 play, Gorum was taken down behind the line of scrimmage as Caledonia seemed out of sorts entirely.
The Cavs got the ball back on the fumble recovery, but it was more of the same.
Walters was targeted twice but caught neither pass, setting up a fourth-and-15 from the Bulldogs’ 37. Sullivan was forced out of bounds two yards short on a hook-and-ladder play, giving Aberdeen the chance to run out the clock.
The Bulldogs won on the strength of two big plays in the second quarter, both of which went for touchdowns.
Quarterback Jermaine Strong pitched the ball to running back Christopher Holliday, Jr. right at the line of scrimmage, and Holliday did the rest on an 80-yard touchdown run.
Kelly said it was a play Caledonia hadn’t seen before and did not know how to defend.
“We probably should have played it right, but hey, that’s high school football,” he said. “Tip your hat to them. They made a good play.”
Barely two minutes later, Strong found M.L. Fort wide open for a 37-yard touchdown pass.
In the halftime huddle, Caledonia’s coaches issued a challenge to the Cavaliers’ defense: No more big plays.
The Cavs listened.
“Our kids can play defense, and when we come with the right mindset, we’ve got cats who can get after it on that side of the ball,” Kelly said.
One defensive stand after another gave Caledonia a chance.
But with the Cavs’ scoring struggles, that wasn’t enough.
“Our kids played hard enough to win this tonight,” Kelly said. “We’ve just got to get better offensively and do it.”
Aberdeen 12, Caledonia 7
Aberdeen (4-1) 0 12 0 0 —12
Caledonia (1-4) 0 0 7 0 — 7
A — Christopher Holliday, Jr. 80 run (run failed), clock 7:11
A — M.L. Fort 37 pass from Jermaine Strong (run failed), clock 4:50
C — Ladarius Smith 7 run (Reed Frady kick), clock 5:15
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.
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