By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
Twenty-seven years later, Calhoun City will once again be playing Lumberton in a high school football state championship game.
This time around, the Wildcats are hoping to have a better outcome against the school just 30 minutes southwest of Hattiesburg.
Calhoun City surrendered 21 unanswered points to the Panthers in the 1983 Class BB state title game, and its 14-6 lead halfway through the fourth quarter quickly turned into a 27-14 defeat.
On Friday afternoon, Calhoun City has another opportunity to win a state title on the gridiron against the Panthers. The Daily Journal’s top-ranked small school (15-0) will be going for championship No. 2 when they take on Lumberton (13-1) in the MHSAA Class 2A state championship game beginning at 3 p.m. at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson.
The Wildcats, who won the 1989 2A state title, will also be attempting to make history by becoming the first MHSAA team to go 16-0 in a season. (Lafayette also has a shot of achieving a 16-0 campaign with a win over North Pike in Saturday afternoon’s Class 4A championship game.)
“These guys are a lot better than we were,” Lee Nabors, the quarterback of the ’83 Wildcats team, said about the current Calhoun City players. “They are a lot more talented and skilled then we were.
“We were good in 1983, but they are more talented and more skilled than we were.”
Chance for redemption
Nabors can certainly relate to the championship-game frustration experienced by Calhoun City quarterback J.R. Jennings during the 2008 Class 1A state title game.
Trailing Puckett 25-21 with less than a minute to play in the game, Jennings and his offense faced a fourth-and-goal from the 7-yard line. The then sophomore quarterback rolled to his right before stopping to cut back in an attempt to avoid the oncoming rush.
However, Calhoun City’s quarterback lost his footing in the process and fell untouched to the ground, ending the Wildcats’ season.
In his senior season, Nabors threw two interceptions, including a pick-six, in the closing minutes of the ’83 title game.
Current Wildcats head coach Perry Liles was in college when he attended that year’s championship game.
“That was the first year that Calhoun City played in an actual state championship game,” said Liles, who played with Nabors at Calhoun City before graduating in 1982. “Hopefully, we’ll make up for that loss some 20 years later.”
What makes a championship team
Jennings – who has drawn recruiting interest from Alcorn State University, Arkansas State, Delta State Mississippi State, Northwest Mississippi Community College, Ole Miss and Southern Miss, among others – has had a stellar senior season. This fall, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound quarterback has completed 174 of 241 passes for a 72.2 completion percentage, 2,680 yards and 30 touchdowns. He’s only been picked off seven times, and has also rushed for eight touchdowns.
“He is an amazing quarterback,” said Nabors, who saw Jennings play twice this season – versus Houston on Aug. 27 and against East Webster on Nov. 19. “I officiate football in the Southeastern Conference, and what was amazing to me was his footwork. … His footwork is quite impressive.”
What has also contributed to both Jennings’ and the team’s success is having a balanced offensive attack and solid play on the offensive and defensive lines.
Nabors can attest to the importance of having both.
“We had a balanced offense and ran the veer,” the former Wildcats quarterback recalled. “We had a pretty balanced offense. We also had a tremendous offensive line. We had some (NCAA) Division I players on the offensive line.
“We lost the first game of the year to Bruce because our running back wasn’t able to play in that game, and then we ran the table and won every game up to that championship game.”
Even without the services of standout defensive tackle Rokedrick “Turkey” Mays (5-11, 265) for virtually all of their division games, the 2010 Wildcats still went undefeated in their division (1-2A), giving up only 54 points in five games.
Tabarrius Coffey (6-4, 325), Charvis Pierce (6-0, 240), Raheem Roberson (5-10, 270) and KarDevin Thomas (5-11, 280) have contributed largely to the Wildcats outscoring their opponents 551-148 this season.
Even the son of Jim Hervey, a teammate of Nabors on the ’83 Wildcats, has made some plays on the defensive side of the ball. Freshman lineman James Hervey (6-0, 175) recorded six tackles and forced a fumble in three games.
Meanwhile, Lumberton will be looking to ruin Calhoun City’s perfect season and win its fourth state title.
“They’re big and physical up front on the offensive and defensive lines,” said Lumberton head coach Brian Ford. “And they run well for big guys, too.
“They play hard. They line up right. They do the things that they’re supposed to do. Their quarterback’s an outstanding player and they have some other skill guys that complement him well.
“They’re a really good football team.”
Contact John Wilbert at 678-1572 or firstname.lastname@example.org