By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
Calhoun City finally lost in the regular season and Baldwyn has won two straight since starting out 0-4.
That doesn’t mean anything tonight.
The two squads kick off their 2011 MHSAA Division 1-2A slate against one another at 7:30 p.m. in Baldwyn.
Prior to last season, the Bearcats had a five-year reign on top of the division. The Wildcats spoiled that run last October, defeating the Bearcats at home, 34-7, in the division opener for both teams, before running the table in the division and finishing the regular season at 11-0.
“Don’t get me wrong, Calhoun City was a very strong ballclub,” Bearcats head coach Michael Gray recalled about last season’s meeting. “But we played with little or no effort.”
Gray doesn’t expect tonight’s contest to be any easier, even if the Wildcats don’t have a number of key skill players from last year’s 15-1, state runner-up team. The Wildcats are 5-1 through the first six weeks of the 2011 regular season, their only loss coming at Amory, 28-13, last Friday night.
“They’re a bigger school; they’re supposed to beat us,” head coach Perry Liles said about playing a Class 4A team that is averaging more than 320 yards passing per game. “We did get a lot of positives out of it from looking at film. They challenged us with certain things. … It helped us to face somebody who threw it well.”
The Wildcats remain the Daily Journal’s top-ranked small school despite the loss; the Bearcats hold a share of the fifth spot with East Webster.
The Bearcats have outscored their last two opponents – Nettleton and South Pontotoc – a combined 79-35, and could easily be 4-2 instead of 2-4.
“We’re getting a little healthy. We still got a couple of key players out,” Gray said. “Some of the younger players are finally catching up with what’s going on.
“We were in games but we kind of gave them away late.”
failure to launch
Against Saltillo, a Class 5A school, the Bearcats led 23-7 late into the third quarter of a Week 3 game at home. With its lead dwindling down to three points in the fourth quarter, the Bearcats offense collapsed and couldn’t hold onto the ball.
They couldn’t execute a play, said Gray, that they had run in the first half: the quarterback rolls out to the corner, and, if there’s no pressure from the defense, he’s to run upfield with the football.
“We threw it behind a receiver, and we just didn’t make plays,” Gray said after his team threw three interceptions in the second half to lose 26-23.
Another tough early-season loss to an area rival came Week 2 against Booneville. After shutting down a Blue Devils offense that rushed for 108 yards and two scores in the first half, the Bearcats could only score once in the second half, falling short on the road, 14-6.
The Bearcats D will face a very big and very athletic offensive line tonight that has paved the way for a rushing attack averaging 217.3 yards per game.
“In tough situations they are going to run the football,” Gray said of the Wildcats, who feature two talented sophomore backs in Lavarious Varnado and Cartin McBride. “They have all their linemen back from last year. They’re pretty massive … and they move well, too.”
On their defensive line, the Wildcats will again be without 6-foot, 330-pound KarDevin Thomas.
Overall, Liles expects both teams “to stick with their base stuff” tonight – meaning you likely won’t see both offenses lining up in no-back sets and throwing it all over the field like some of their previous opponents did, forcing their defenses to get out of their base schemes.
“They’re definitely good enough to beat us,” Liles said of the Bearcats.