The Lions — who open the year next Saturday against Haralson County in the West Georgia Football Classic at University Stadium — found the end zone on three occasions through three quarters of varsity action and held the Wildcats scoreless during that same time, providing the confidence-boost that second-year Central coach Grant Chesnut was looking for heading into the showdown with the Rebels.
“They played hard. You know, the film will tell the tale, but I’m proud of their efforts, proud of their attitude. They played with confidence. Offensively, we had some penalties at times with some back-up guys getting some reps. But for the most part, the first-line guys did a pretty good job,” Chesnut said.
“It was a positive step forward. But next week will obviously tell the tale. We’re going to have a very well-coached and well-motivated Haralson County team waiting on us. So we’ll take [Thursday] for what it’s worth. I’m proud of our kids and the heart they showed. I just want to move forward and take another step.”
On the flipside, second-year VR coach Mike Falleur said his young ball club, which featured several first-year, sophomore starters, got exposed to what it’s like to play under the lights at the varsity level. The good news for the Wildcats is that they have three weeks between now and their Sept. 7 opener against South Paulding.
“I mean, we’ve got a long ways to go. We’ve got to figure out real quick. The sophomores that are out there, this ain’t Thursday anymore. It’s a different pace, a different speed, and they’ve got to adjust to it. And they will. They will. We’ve got to get our older ones to understand that they’ve got to rise up even higher,” Falleur said. “It’s just the way it is.”
Central had several different backs enjoy solid nights rushing the ball, with sophomore fullback Jayleen Terry hitting paydirt on the Lions’ first possession of the night, capping off a nine-play, 65-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run with 5:07 left in the first quarter. Terry, who tallied 69 yards on 10 carries, got a good chunk of his night’s work on a 44-yard run on that opening drive.
Along with Terry’s showing, junior Brandon Delaney (3 carries, 44 yards), junior Curtis Davenport (4 carries, 39 yards, TD), senior Dresden Thornton (2 carries, 36 yards) and sophomore Kyle Terrell (5 carries, 35 yards) also had solid nights on the ground for Central.
“We were able to play a lot of guys — relative to us — in the backfield and from what I can tell from the sideline, they all did a good job. That’s definitely a positive,” Chesnut said.
Davenport scored on a 21-yard run with 7:23 remaining in the third quarter and junior Josh Dunson tacked on a defensive score for the Lions with an 82-yard return on a fumble recovery with 55 seconds left in the third quarter. Place-kicker Tyler Obukuro connected on all three of his extra-point attempts for what would have been a 21-0 score at the end of the three quarters had they kept a score Thursday night.
Defensively, the Lions yielded just 74 yards of total offense in the first half and didn’t allow VR to get past the Central 28-yard line. The Cats attempted a 52-yard field goal with 56 seconds left in the first quarter, but Manny Rivera’s boot came up just short.
“Defensively, they played hard and I thought we got to the football pretty well. So like I said, it’s a positive step. Our goal each day is to be better at the end of the day than at the beginning and I think we did that [Thursday],” Chesnut said.
VR’s best scoring opportunity of the night in varsity action saw senior fullback Jermaine Hutchinson find the end zone on a five-yard run, but the touchdown was negated due to a penalty. Two plays later, Central capitalized on the fumble — which came on a pass on the perimeter that was ruled a lateral — for the score.
Hutchinson led the Cats with 35 yards on seven carries in limited minutes, while junior quarterback Kevin Martin also had a few nice runs early in the night. The Cats’ lone touchdown of the night came in the junior-varsity fourth quarter after returning a fumble for a score and then converting the two-point conversion.
Outside of an early scare to VR senior running back Quantavious Cousin, who left the game after going down awkwardly on his knee, Thursday’s contest left both teams with a clean bill of health — Falleur said Cousin’s injury doesn’t appear to be serious.
And as both teams begin moving forward from Thursday’s action, each coach now has a better idea of where they stand on the eve of the 2012 season.
“They got underneath the lights, they got in the fast-paced speed and they’ve got to all of a sudden figure out what we’ve been preaching and talking about. It is what it is. But we’ll get better,” Falleur said. “It’s going to be week-to-week. We just ain’t got long to get better.”
For the Lions, they leave Thursday night’s outing with a sense of confidence, and that’s just what Chesnut was hoping for by night’s end.
“Absolutely. I think they needed to be confident coming out of this performance. But I think they also need to understand that it’s only just begun,” Chesnut said.