By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
Marcus Autry’s Holly Springs team no longer wants to be taken lightly.
“We came into this year not wanting to be a homecoming team,” said the big, second-year Hawks football coach.
As an opponent on homecoming, you’re generally considered an inferior team – because the home team wants nothing more than an impressive, easy victory.
Winning only one game in the past two seasons – like the Hawks, who went 0-11 in 2009 – can certainly make you a popular choice.
This season, the Hawks got to experience the joy of winning on their own homecoming. They defeated Independence, 35-12, on Sept. 23.
That happened to be their second win during their current four-game winning streak, which was preceded by an 0-4 start to the season.
So, was that 23-point win over the Wildcats the point when things really started to click for the Hawks – a proverbial turning point? After all, the Hawks went on to win at Ripley, 19-13, and shut out Alcorn Central, 41-0, for a 2-0 start in its MHSAA Division 1-3A slate.
No, not necessarily, says Autry. Try last year’s game at Independence.
“That Independence game last year meant more to us,” Autry said of his team’s 27-19 loss at Independence last October. “We didn’t win, but that’s when they really started listening and working on fundamentals. … It was their homecoming and we fought our tails off and lost.
“We fought so hard that ballgame and fell short.”
After failing to establish a strong running game last season, Autry, a former Auburn offensive lineman, got his club to improve its strength.
“What has helped us out is that we have gotten stronger,” Autry said. “Last year we had no punch.
“We didn’t play any 7-on-7 (passing games). We had to get stronger and I felt that doing the 7-on-7 would be taking away from the work we needed to do in our weight room.”
Judging by his team’s performances in its first two division games, Autry and Co. made the right decision. The Hawks had two 100-yard rushers at Ripley: Tevin Jones rushed for 193 yards and a touchdown and Eric Hardin rushed for 144 and two TDs.
“This is the first Holly Springs team to beat Ripley. There’s nowhere in the record books where they had beaten Ripley,” Autry said.
The former Pontotoc High player added, “I never lost to Ripley as a player, and we don’t plan on doing so starting now.”
After Jones rushed for 204 yards on nine carries versus the Golden Bears Friday night, the 2-0 Hawks (4-4 overall) turn their attention to third-ranked Booneville. (Oh, and by the way, this week’s contest is the Blue Devils’ homecoming.)
The Blue Devils (4-3, 1-1) are coming off a tough 21-14 loss to second-ranked Kossuth.
“In my opinion, that was the battle for No. 1 and No. 2 in the division,” Autry said on Monday evening, taking a break from watching film. “Both of those teams are really well-coached and playing hard.”
The Holly Springs coach says his team has a lot of work to do if it wants to achieve a few of its goals, including winning seven games during the regular season for the first time in the school’s history.
“We have a lot of young guys who are hungry and have stepped up to the challenge,” Autry said. “Since we haven’t had a lot of tradition winning games, our guys want to do whatever it takes to win.”