MURRAY — Three weeks ago, the Murray High football team fell just short of the win against Caldwell County. Now, they will be facing Caldwell again with it all on the line and the Tigers have been training for this moment since January.
Head coach Keith Hodge said, “Back in January, we started preparing for this opportunity, talking about it, planning for it. Wow, how it gets to you fast. All the film, practices, and games all lead you to preparation for the playoffs.”
The Tigers have had a season plagued with injuries, but they have persevered and maintained a winning 7-3 record and are 2-2 in the district.
Murray High would much rather be the ones hosting this battle, but the Tigers lost 42-40 on a failed two-point conversion attempt in the final seconds of the matchup against Caldwell County, giving Caldwell the right to host this first round district playoff game.
Since then, the Tigers lost two of their key offensive players to injury — quarterback Hunter Utley and wide receiver Jaiden Jackson.
In the game versus Caldwell three weeks ago, Utley completed 27 passes for a total of 385 yards. Jackson led the team in both rushing and receiving yards. He totaled 101 yards rushing and 124 yards receiving against Caldwell County.
So the question is: how will the Tigers flip the script knowing they won’t have Utley or Jackson this go-around?
“There are some unknowns we’ll have to adjust for in this game,” Hodge said. “Are both teams going to defend each other differently? How are we going to respond to some adversity you always face come this time of year? The keys are playing with urgency but staying with your fundamentals and committing to your exact role. It’s hard not having the players we’re missing, but we don’t concede the opportunity to go to battle. There will be some things we do the same but others we have to do differently.”
The Tigers adjusted to their new quarterback Rowdy Sokolowski nicely last week in their 35-0 shutout against Fulton County, but there was an obvious need for improvement.
“Offensively we have to get in rhythm,” Hodge said. “It starts with the smallest things like knowing the call and communicating. Taking care of the ball is a big key point but also we want to create a solid run game this week.”
Against the Pilots, Charvelle McCallister was able to rush for 171 yards.
Defensively, Hodge is still looking for his players to trust in their assignments.
“We’ve played great when we trust things,” Hodge said. “Since we’re playing a spread team this week, we have to close space quick and get to the ball.”
The Tiger defense performed exceptionally well in the shutout last week. It was the only shutout delivered by Murray High so far this season. In that same game, Tiger Tommy Waldrop was able to break 1,000 yards receiving on the season.
“1,000 yards from Tommy at the wide receiver spot is an awesome accomplishment, but really, I think it speaks volumes of not only the work he’s put in but also how we’ve been able to pass protect, block on the perimeter and do things right to set it up,” Hodge said.
This game could very well be the last for seniors like Waldrop.
“It’s probably in their minds, but they can’t play worried about that scoreboard the whole time,” Hodge said. “It’s play by play. They understand the situation, and hopefully, they are ready to step up. These seniors and the rest of the team are in for a dog fight.”
Caldwell is sound in all aspects of the game.
“We have to match that and not slip on offense, defense, or special teams,” Hodge said. “Their tempo offensively can be hard to handle so we’ve really focused on that and feel a lot more prepared. We have to get their two linebackers blocked. Those guys make their defense go. This game very well could come down to special teams play. Execution of that area will be big.”
Hodge expects to see his team to compete for four quarters Friday night.
“Last time we got into a coast mode against them. This time we know better,” Hodge said. “We don’t want to be content with getting an eleventh game. We want to win and move on.”