Chargers overcome early struggles to win homecoming decision

Staff Writer

Maybe it was because Friday was homecoming. Perhaps it was something else.

Whatever was the case, Choctaw County head coach Ben Ashley saw as early as the pre-game meal before Friday night’s game against Caledonia that his football team wasn’t mentally where they needed to be.

“Our kids had zero focus,” Ashley said. “I’m talking about zero focus, and it showed early on. They really, really, really did not prepare themselves mentally for this football game.”

In the end, though it wasn’t always pretty, the Chargers found a way anyway. After sputtering offensively in the first half, at times looking sloppy with turnovers and fumbles, Choctaw County ultimately came away with a 20-6 win over Caledonia. The Chargers didn’t earn many style points, but that didn’t concern Ashley when all was said and done.

“I’ll take it,” Ashley said. “If we can win the rest of them just like that, I’ll be a happy camper.”

Still, it was a grind for the Chargers (3-1). Caledonia (1-2) limited Choctaw County to just one first-half score. That came on a 10-yard touchdown run from quarterback Tylan Carter in the first quarter.

Caledonia responded just seconds later on its ensuing drive with a 68-yard scoring scamper by Jedarius Gore. Caledonia missed the extra point, but the message was sent. This wasn’t going to be an easy night for Choctaw County as the Chargers struggled to find their bearings.

“You have to give credit to Caledonia,” Ashley said. “They had a lot to do with (our struggles). They came out, loaded the box and hit us in the mouth. It took us out of our comfort zone for just a little bit.”

While the Chargers found themselves offensively, the Choctaw County defense shined. Outside of the long run given up to Gore, Caledonia found itself smothered all night. The Confederates’ triple-option attack was essentially solved by the Chargers.

“We just had to step up and make plays,” Choctaw County senior defensive lineman Dre Meaders said. “We worked hard in practice all week and were able to come out with the win.”

Ashley praised his defense’s ability to play assignment football and keep the Confederates under wraps.

“When you play someone that runs a triple-option, you never see that,” Ashley said. “We did a great job of putting a hat on the dive and putting a hat on the quarterback and putting a hat on the pitch. That’s just what you have to do. It’s easier said than done. I thought we got a lot of push on our defensive line, too. When you get push on that particular offense, it destroys the mesh. We did that a time or two. That’s what you have to have.”

With Choctaw County’s defense holding serve, the offense finally came around. At halftime, Ashley challenged his team’s focus and made an offensive adjustment Caledonia had a hard time stopping.

“We kind of threw them a curveball and went with our spread stuff and it was good to us,” Ashley said. “They were totally unprepared for that and there was no way for them to be prepared. We hadn’t shown any of that.”
With a new look and a newfound fire, the Chargers reeled off 13 unanswered points in the third quarter to put the game away. Carter had another touchdown run – this one a 14-yarder. Kaleb Nichols added a 43-yard rush across the goal line.

Caledonia never recovered. Despite Choctaw County’s early doldrums, it found victory. Ashley still sees several kinks to work out though.

“We’ve just got so much work to do and we’re running out of time,” Ashley said. “Ultimately, what it’s going to come down to is that our commitment level has got to be higher from certain individuals. That’s kind of where we’re at. We’re a work in progress even to this date, but I think it’s going to work out because our kids play really hard. That’s one thing that they do most of the time.”

The Chargers can ill afford to come out slow next week. That’s when they travel northward to battle rival Eupora. It’s always a huge game when the two Highway 9 neighbors get together and this year should be no different.
Ashley doesn’t figure distractions will be too much of an issue for Choctaw County come next Friday night.

“If focus is an issue next week, we need to really check ourselves,” Ashley said. “Our kids love to play Eupora and Eupora’s kids love to play our kids. I anticipate a really good football game. Obviously they are well-coached and obviously they have good athletes as they always do. It’ll be a fun week next week. I don’t think I have to worry about inspiring our guys to play football.”