Tigers roar in scrimmage win over Heritage

By Justin Hubbard

justin@lakeoconeenews.us

 

It didn’t take long for the Greene County football team to prove it can hold its own despite losing 19 players to graduation.

The Tigers seemed destined for a rebuilding year after losing one of the program’s most talented groups of players, which featured the likes of Devin Wynn, Anthony Grimes and C.J. Richardson. A rebuild may still be inevitable, but, at least for now, there’s reason to be confident in the Tigers’ chances of winning a lot of games in 2017.

After quickly falling behind Class 6A opponent Heritage High School 14-0 last Friday during a preseason scrimmage in Greensboro, Greene seemed doomed to have a three-and-out on its third possession. Then, Mikel Adams, who has been tasked with replacing Wynn as the Tigers’ No. 1 tailback, got loose.

Adams, a senior, tore off a big run after catching a pass from junior quarterback C’Darius Kelley and picked up a big chunk of yards on a third-and-long play. Greene drove down the field and set up a first-and-goal from short range.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, a couple penalties pushed them back and forced them to make a longer play in order to score. And they did.

Kelley connected with senior Malik Jones to put the Tigers on the board. From there, the teams traded blows until junior tailback Terrance McCommons scored with about eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter to put Greene ahead for good, 24-23.

Tigers head coach Robert Edwards praised his players during the postgame huddle. He began his speech, though, by telling his players – all 30 of them – that their conditioning must improve because they will all have to play a lot due to the team’s shorthanded roster.

“A lot of guys, they won't come off the field,” Edwards said. “They've got to go both ways, so they've got to be conditioned physically and mentally to prepare for that. When we're tired, we don't play very well, we don't tackle very well, we don't make good decisions. I want to make sure that we're in shape and let them know it doesn't get easier.”

Just like with his speech, though, Edwards took a moment during a postgame interview to laud his players.

“Even though I stressed conditioning, I thought they were well disciplined,” he said. “We didn't have a lot of penalties up front. They did try to draw us offside but I think we only jumped offside maybe one time.”

Heritage, on the other hand, jumped offside a handful of times.

Kelley, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in last year’s opener at Morgan, made his return to the gridiron in impressive fashion last Friday. In addition to a handful of good runs and passes, Kelley flashed a new skill the Tigers haven’t had in quite some time.

On a few occasions, Kelley got the offense lined up and did a hard count, which drew a couple Heritage defensive players offside. That element of Kelley’s game is something Henry Neal, who served as the team’s quarterback the last few years, didn’t have.

Edwards said Kelley’s ability to draw defenders offside could be a game-changer.

“It slows the defense down,” Edwards said. “You can't just jump snap counts because at anytime we can bring that out and get a quick five yards. So it's gonna slow the defense down and it gives us an advantage in the blocking scheme because we get to be the attacker and they can't just attack us and blitz when they want to.”

Kelley picked up several yards thanks to an improvised scramble about midway through the first quarter. On earlier possessions, he scrambled out of necessity.

Greene’s offensive line could not hold back Heritage’s starting defensive linemen at first. Then, the Tigers bowed up and pushed back. Heritage pulled its starters as the second quarter began, but Greene’s offensive line’s progression still impressed Edwards.

“They're brand new,” he said. “They didn't play last year. The only person that's returning from our starting o-line is Anton Kilpatrick, and he was at center; now, he's at left tackle. The other four are newcomers, so they've got to jell. They've got to work through the [growing] pains, and that's what preseason games are for.”

Adams and Fredarius Hall shouldered the load at tailback last week. Edwards said he wants to find other players who can work in the backfield with them.

He said if the Tigers can add depth to its running back and fullback group, then their offense could be much fiercer.

“Ant Elder wasn't able to play this game, so he's a guy that's gonna play into that role,” Edwards said. “But we've got to find a few more guys to be fullbacks, because when we've got a two-back system, we kind of want Mikel to be at that I-back as well and have an opportunity to run I-back with a lead blocker and him not always being a lead blocker. We're gonna look and see who we can convince [defensive coordinator Demetro] Stephens to let us borrow from the defense and put them in there.”

One of Greene’s weaknesses was apparent right away. After the Tigers’ offense scored its first touchdown, sophomore Justin Jones came on to kick the extra point attempt. Jones typically works along the offensive and defensive line, and it showed.

Jones hooked the PAT left, costing the Tigers a point.

“It's like that every first preseason game,” Edwards said. “We don't get the kickers until the first day of school, and that's Monday. Cristian [Escutia] is one of the guys that I talked to [Friday] at open house. He's probably gonna end up being the kicker. He was out here with Jorge last year.”

Overall, there is still work for the Tigers to do as they prepare for the regular season, which begins with a home matchup against Morgan on Aug. 25. Until then, Greene has practice and another scrimmage, set for this Friday at Tiger Stadium, against Athens Christian.

Edwards said the players must have one focus right now: working on themselves.

“Mentally, getting tougher, getting conditioned to make it four quarters because this was a modified scrimmage; we didn't have special teams,” he said. “The starters kind of sat down halfway through the third quarter so they didn't play the fourth quarter. If the score's like this, it's a dog fight. We need them in the game fourth quarter. The fourth quarter is where it counts, especially in close games.”

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