First-year junior high Head Coach Adam Carter and his Highland Junior Rebels overcame first game jitters by playing solid defense and relying on three long touchdown runs by freshman quarterback Avery Johnson to beat Hoxie, 26-12, at Highland on Sept. 2.
What goes through a coach's mind when his offense sputters on its first three drives?
"I was thinking, 'Ok, we've got to readjust. You always take a curve ball and adjust.' We got pregame jitters. I had them myself, you know," said Carter. "First time out the gate, but I was confident in my boys, confident in myself and my coaching staff. We made some adjustments and did what we had to do."
The junior Rebel offense was hindered by the loss of lineman Mike Archibald on the opening kickoff. Carter moved tight-end Garrett Hussong into Archibald's spot.
"I told him, 'you're going to play tackle' and he said, 'yes, sir. I got it.' We had some guys out of position, but they stepped up and played the game. That's what you've got to have to win ball games," explained Carter.
An Austin Himschoot interception of junior Mustang quarterback Cole Sears' second pass attempt on their opening drive helped give the junior Rebel offense some time to adjust.
On its second drive, Hoxie drove 69 yards and got on the scoreboard with a Sears' 1-yard run. The junior Rebels stopped Sears on the 2-point conversion, but the junior Mustangs had a 6-0 lead with 1:37 left in the first.
Queue the Avery Johnson experience.
After the junior Reb defense stopped Hoxie on a long 10-play drive deep in Highland territory, Johnson busted through the line and dashed 81 yards for a touchdown. His conversion pass to Spenser Stowers was incomplete, but Highland had the tied the game at 6-all with 2:52 left in the half.
Junior Rebel defense forced a punt, a rolling 52-yarder, which setup a nearly identical Johnson scamper for a 71-yard TD, and a 12-6 advantage just before the intermission.
One more time.
After halftime, the junior Rebel defense didn't allow any yards to force another rolling 59-yard punt to the junior Rebel 10-yard line. Eighth-grade running back Trace French lost two on first down and Johnson picked up eight on second before reeling off an 84-yard touchdown run. Brody Ninemire plunged through the line for two points and a 20-6 lead for Highland.
Sears scored on a one-yard run after an 11-play drive, to cut the score 20-12.
Hoxie, putting together its third 10-plus play drive, fumbled the ball at the 7, which Junior Copeland scooped up and rumbled 93 yards for the final score of the night.
Johnson led the team with 10 carries for 248 yards.
"We don't need to always rely on number 4 (Johnson). If that's all we got, we're not going to get very far," said Carter. "I've got a lot of weapons and I've got to be able to use them."