After holding four starters out of last week’s preseason scrimmage at Douglas County, the injury casualties continued piling up this week, where as many as five starters could be sidelined for tonight’s 8 p.m. border war with the Yellow Jackets.
Junior quarterback Wil Garrett suffered a broken thumb that required surgery Wednesday and Trojan coach Rayvan Teague said the signal-caller will likely be out eight weeks, while junior linebacker Casey Collins is questionable for tonight’s game with a hip pointer.
Junior free safety Duffey Dortch, junior cornerback Sam Turner and senior guard Tyler Britton are all still out this week, as well.
“We have had our series of injuries that’s kind of hampered us right now, but for the most part, the guys are working really, really hard,” Teague said.
Fellow junior quarterback Will Hesterlee is now the go-to guy under center for the Trojans after he’d been splitting reps with Garrett through the preseason. Teague said while you hate to see anyone go down, the Trojan coach noted that he has all the confidence in Hesterlee’s ability to lead the offense.
“We’re blessed that we had two really good quarterbacks. We’ve got confidence in Will Hesterlee to get the job done. It’s a luxury to have two because that way you’re not as worried about running them if one of them gets hurt. So that’s a little bit of a concern. But as far as confidence in Will Hesterlee, we’ve got it,” Teague said. “I think he’ll do a great job.”
Tonight’s showdown pits a pair of ranked teams against one another, as the Trojans moved up to No. 3 in the Class AAAA poll this week, while the Yellow Jackets open the season ranked No. 7 in 6A across the state line.
Both teams got hit rather hard by graduation, but Carrollton a bit more than Oxford. The Yellow Jackets, who reached Game 14 last fall, return a pair of Division I defensive linemen in seniors Ulric Jones and Trent Simpson. Jones is listed at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds and is committed to Mississippi State, while Simpson (6-5, 240) is also a Mississippi State commit.
“Then they’ve got two linebackers and a defensive end back. On offense, they’ve got a junior running back [Racean Thomas] that started 14 games for them last year and he’s said to be a Division I talent. They’ve got an offensive linemen back. So they’re a little bit more experienced than us and they’re bigger than us,” Teague said.
Oxford won its preseason scrimmage in a 13-10 decision over Oak Mountain of Birmingham last Friday, while the Trojans defeated Douglas County, 29-14, in three quarters of varsity play.
The Trojans had some issues surface during the scrimmage on the defensive side of the ball and in special teams, and Teague said they worked hard on that this week in practice.
“I think defensively we’re still trying to find ourselves. We’re a little concerned about how they’re going to play as a unit in this game,” Teague said. “Our kicking game has been a little bit of a mystery. I think our lack of overall team speed, especially defensive speed, has made us a little suspect in the kicking game with kickoffs and punts. So we’ve been working really hard on that this week. But we’ve got some talented young kickers and I know they’ll do their job and our coverage units will get better than they were in the scrimmage against Douglas County.”
Tonight will mark the third consecutive year the Trojans and Yellow Jackets have met to open the season, with each team owning one win against the other — Carrollton won a 43-21 affair in 2010 and Oxford got its payback with a 34-24 victory last year in Alabama.
Opening the season with such a marquee game is something Carrollton fans have enjoyed the past two seasons, and the players also look forward to a challenge right from the get-go.
“I believe playing a good team in the first game, emotions are high and the stakes are high and I believe we’re going to be better because of it. No one wants to lose their first game, especially at home,” noted Carrollton senior linebacker Armani Phillips.
“It’s going to be exciting for me because this is my first time really playing in a big game. I guess we’ve got to get a little revenge from the 34-24 last year,” added Trojan junior wing back Trey Chivers.
Teague, who will try to earn career victory No. 200 tonight, said it’s the start of a difficult non-region schedule that includes Chapel Hill and reigning Class AA state champion Calhoun.
“I mean, obviously, it’s great for the two communities. We’ll make a lot of money. It’s going to be a great, playoff-like atmosphere for the first game. They’re a great program that went to the semifinals last year in 6A,” Teague said.
And after a long preseason, the Trojans are finally set to hit the field for a big-game environment featuring two proud programs with some border bragging rights on the line.
“We’re super-excited. It’s time to fly around and have fun. This is payday. Friday’s are payday. Friday’s are fun. It’s not time to think a lot. This is time to have fun. Once the lights come on, this is what you’ve been waiting for all summer and all fall,” Phillips said.