By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
Make no mistake about it: If you’re Bruce or Calhoun City and could only win one game during the regular season, this is the one you want.
“Oh, there’s no doubt about that,” said Bruce head coach James Ray. “People around here will let you know about it, too.”
Tonight, the Calhoun County rivals’ annual “Skuna River” game will not only be for bragging rights but for a championship as well.
The MHSAA Division 1-2A title is on the line when the Daily Journal’s top-ranked small schools take the field in Bruce. No. 1 Calhoun City has won the last four meetings – the last three by a combined 21 points.
“Yeah, this game is not to be taken lightly,” said Calhoun City head coach Perry Liles. “This is one of our goals: This is for our division’s championship. It’s definitely an important game.”
Both teams are 9-1 on the year and 4-0 in the division. Calhoun City, last year’s Class 2A state runner-up, suffered their only loss at the hands of Amory; Bruce’s was to Water Valley, a team Calhoun City defeated in Week 3.
That doesn’t matter as both teams will battle through bumps and bruises in an ever-important game, said Ray.
Meanwhile, for the Wildcats, Liles said his team is healthy for the most part, except for QB Tae Lawrence (fractured throwing hand), who likely will be restricted to his linebacker duties, and will only play on offense if needed.
Fortunately for Liles and Co., Chakel Gates and Trey Brownlee have done a stellar job in Lawrence’s absence. Liles pointed out that Gates ran for 131 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries against Okolona on Oct. 14, and that Brownlee rushed for 141 and one on 14 touches last Friday versus Hatley.
Bruce and Calhoun City are two of the more athletic teams around. Bruce can be characterized by its exceptional skills players; Calhoun City by its massive linemen.
Just imagine if the Calhoun County schools, including Vardaman, ever consolidated into one school.
“In the late ’90s, they tried to consolidate, but the communities just weren’t for it,” Liles said.
Added Ray, “There’s definitely been talk about consolidation for years. I don’t think it will happen because there’s too much of a rivalry.”
For now, let’s just pretend that the Trojans and Wildcats joined together to form one team in 2011.
“I think that definitely adding their skill people would help our team in numbers,” Liles said. “I do think that they got some good lineman. They had some all-state linemen last year.
“If we combined teams, we really could have a solid Class 3A or 4A team.”
Ray agreed with that notion.
“There’s been numerous NFL players that came out of this county,” said the Trojans coach. “I think it will be like a Wayne County-type situation.”
Wayne County – which has students from the towns of Buckatunna, Clara and Waynesboro – has won three state championships since 2002.