Going into last Friday’s Kickoff Classic at home against Baldwin, Baker High coach Ryan Sulkowski and his staff had a lot of evaluating to do. There were starters to decide, substitutes to pencil in. But after the loss at the hands of the Indians there were more questions than answers.
The Wildcats were surprised in a lot of ways on Friday. For the first half the running game sputtered, with penalties galore. Receivers dropped sure catches. The kicking game still needs a lot of work. The vaunted defense had trouble stopping the elusive Indian quarterback. In short, it looked like the pre-season game it was. There will be a lot of work this week before the Cats travel to Columbia High on Friday to take on the Tigers.
If there was a positive to take from the loss, it’s that Baldwin, a 1A team, came to play against an opponent a couple of classifications higher. The Cats go into Friday against a team a couple of classifications higher, too.
Both teams will be telling their players this simple truth – this was not a “real” game. It was a pre-season game meant to point out glaring holes, positive play and things that can be changed before the season officially starts. It will make one team more confidant going into their season opener and the other more determined.
Baldwin fans had “traveled” and the atmosphere was electric. The field looked pristine and the new Wildcat tunnel added an exciting start to the player introductions.
Both teams looked understandably tight in their opening possessions. The Indians received the ball and All-American CeCe Jefferson demonstrated why he is so highly recruited. In the first four plays Jefferson combined with Brody Crews and then Elijah Lee to sack quarterback Jordan Mullis in the backfield and stop the drive flat.
The Wildcats started with an offside penalty and a holding call that put them in a hole they couldn’t dig out of. But on the next possession they got on the scoreboard. The Wildcats got good field position on the Baldwin 27 and Falon Lee took the ball to the 14. Corey Lawler hit Drew Rogers at the 9 and found him again in the end zone for the score. The point after was no good and the Cats were up by 6 points.
But Baldwin coach Steve Shields made some adjustments and immediately quarterback Mullis was more effective. He ran the ball for 15 yards on two plays and hit Matt Gunther in BCHS territory at the 48-yard line. Mullis connected to the 25-yard line and found Kevin James open in the end zone to take a 7-6 lead. The visiting crowd that had made the 9-mile trip west on US 90 went crazy.
Lawler continued to be effective running the ball and BCHS struck right back. Lawler runs and quick strikes to Mike Brown moved the ball down field to the 4-yard line. Brown moved from receiver to running back and ran the ball in for the go ahead score. The conversion attempt was no good.
Baldwin didn’t take long to answer, taking the ball from its 25 to score. Mullis connected with Emmanuel Johnson on two big pass plays, including a 30 yarder to the corner of the end zone to take a 14-12 lead.
The Cats had an opportunity at the end of the half but two incompletes came back to haunt them. The biggest was a drop in the end zone that would have given the Cats the “win.”
In the second half, the first string sat down and the reserves took over. Javon Thomas cracked a 52-yard run and the Indians padded their lead to 20-12.
For the Cats, there were two bright spots in half two. Reserve quarterback Jacob Carter looked poised and mobile and able to take over for Lawler if the occasion arose. Dalton Dyal was a revelation at running back.
What the 5’5” 145 lb. sophomore lacks in size he makes up with heart and deceptive speed. He cracked off a 50-yard run that set up a scoring opportunity. He and Carter looked good carrying the ball and moving the Wildcats down field, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on top of a holding call snuffed the drive.
The Wildcats will square off against Columbia High on Friday at 7:30 pm in Lake City in the season opener.