MOULTRIE – Though no school or state records fell, the most important record to note is the 1-0 start for Colquitt County High football under first-year head coach Justin Rogers.
It’s Rogers’ opinion anyway that stats are for “losers.” He’s the GACA/MaxPreps Coach of the Week, and a lot of baseball analogies seem to come out of the discussion of the Packers’ 17-6 win over North Gwinnett Saturday at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, like how the defense and offensive line exited the ‘bullpen’ and ‘shut the door’ on the Bulldogs over the final period.
But one of those famous football sayings bests describes how Colquitt County’s defense handled a North Gwinnett lineup with a veteran quarterback and running back plus a Division I-bound receiver in Josh Downs. There was a 17-play drive and a 12-play drive by the folks in red, both of them resulting in the field goals that accounted for the Bulldogs overall scoring.
How big a fan of the ‘bend-but-don’t-break’ philosophy is defensive coordinator Shawn Campbell?
“We’ll take it any way we can get it,” said Campbell. “I’m very proud how hard and physical they were. They came out and did that for four quarters of football. There was a little bit in the middle where we didn’t quite play at the level we want, but that’s what we have to learn and grow on.
“I think our conditioning really came into play when it came time to bow our neck up and force them to kick a field goal. We played with a lot of heart and passion together, and it showed how tight-knit they’ve become as a unit.”
Yes, there were the field goal drives in the second and third periods.
In the final quarter, however, with the Packers up 17-6, it was time to protect. There was no bending about it, for North Gwinnett possessed the football two times with no first downs.
“That’s something Colquitt County defenses always prided on as far as I’ve been watching them, and when I got here it’s one of the first things I realized is the fourth quarter’s our quarter,” said Campbell. “That’s what we train for, to be better in the fourth quarter. I think what we’re doing works. The kids believe in it. I was very pleased with the efforts in getting them off the field and giving our offense a chance to seal the game.”
The Packers also won that turnover battle with two recovered fumbles, one forced by new cornerback Omarian Daniels. He stripped the football loose after a pass reception in the first half. Plus, Daniels got the assignment of covering Downs on a few occasions.
“Ty French did a good job. Callon Kubiak did a good job,” said Campbell about the linebacking corps. “Zy Brockington played amazing in the box. It was amazing to watch those kids who hadn’t played a bunch and how calm and relaxed they were playing and confident. The whole defense, I couldn’t be happier. We set the bar high and are going to continue to raise the bar each week.”
The other lost fumble by North Gwinnett, in the third quarter, was a botched reverse play, and who would scramble to get it for Colquitt but senior end Nathan Bell. If only he could have taken it to the end zone – instead of being brought down on the 11 – after missing all of the 2018 season to a shoulder injury.
“Would have been awesome,” said Campbell. “I’m happy for him because of his return and playing so well. He’s a vital part of what we’re doing. We try not to put a lot of individual accolades on people because we are a unit … but I’m very pleased for him in that situation to get to make a play.”
HARDEN CHECKS OUT FINE
Nothing brings down the jubilation of getting a new season started in football or any game from here to the end than a player hitting the turf hard and drawing a crowd around him. Nobody is feeling easy until said player can get back on his feet and walk to the sidelines under his own power.
Packer senior quarterback Jaycee Harden was sacked by North Gwinnett linebacker Barrett Carter in the third quarter, the back of Harden’s helmet hitting the turf. Medical personnel was on the scene with Rogers taking their time and did get the quarterback up without any additional aid. But it would be a couple of series before Harden did return to action and help close out that victory.
“He got bumped obviously, and you have to go through all the protocols when it becomes something like that with the head,” said Rogers. “We went through everything, he checked out, so he went back in and helped us on that last drive. On Sunday he felt a lot better, passed all his protocols (Monday).”
Ultimately, it wasn’t about the final stats, be it the mere 55 rushing yards for leading ground gainer Daijun Edwards or 124 yards passing for Harden, both responsible for a touchdown.
“The whole name of the game is trying to win,” said Rogers about the last drive where Edwards picked up most of his yardage and Colquitt gained enough to run out the clock still holding the 11-point edge. “We did a phenomenal job of not giving up any explosive plays. Everything was 7 or 8 yards, that’s about as big as they got. We made them snap it again keeping the ball in front.”
Rogers admitted, though, that the longer drives by North Gwinnett limited Colquitt’s chances to operate. He said they also missed some big-play chances running the ball.
“We made enough plays early on,” said Rogers. “And we did a great job in that almost six-minute drive to ice the game. That’s situational football. Our kids have a lot of pride in finishing games.”
The original 2019 schedule had the Packers playing a club from the Chicago area in Moultrie for Labor Day weekend, but that team pulled out and was replaced by Trinity Christian Academy of the Jacksonville area … but not until Oct. 11, which was originally a bye week. So the first bye week is now (the next one after nine straight weeks of games) with Thomasville slated to be the next opponent Sept. 6 on Tom White Field at Mack Tharpe Stadium.
Thomasville had its bit of bad news over the offseason when last year’s freshman starting quarterback, Chad Mascoe, transferred to the IMG football factory in Florida.
“We still have a lot of players who are young in areas,” said Rogers. “We have to make sure we continue to work on us, looking in the mirror. We get after it three hard days, and then we have a JV game on Thursday. A lot of our young guys are excited to get the opportunity to finally play.”
“This week we’re working on us,” said Campbell. “We have things we have to fix. We didn’t play sound in some situations Saturday, and that has to get fixed first. Thomasville is a great football team, has great tradition. I have a lot of respect for Thomasville. We are by no means overlooking Thomasville.”