Calera falls to 0-4 with loss at Stanhope Elmore

Published 1:06 am Saturday, September 15, 2018

By GRIFFIN PRITCHARD | For the Reporter

MILLBROOK – With the exception of two plays, the Stanhope Elmore High Mustangs had their way with the visiting Calera High Eagles using a trio of passing touchdowns and a punishing ground game to secure the 35-12 victory.

“This was a good win for us,” said Brian Bradford, coach of the Mustangs. “The kids played their hearts out. We were a little sloppy at times. But Calera is a very good team, their record (0-4) doesn’t show it.  We left a couple of points on the board, but I thought we played pretty well.”

The Mustangs (3-1) – after forcing Calera to punt on their first possession of the night – went to work at their own 40. Travarasia Duncan, on first down at midfield, broke free on a 20-yard scamper up the middle. Eagles safety Trenton Yowe made the touchdown-saving tackle. But Yowe, ultimately, delayed the inevitable as Duncan – a few plays later on second and short – took the handoff up the gut for the five-yard, go-ahead touchdown with 2:50 to go in the opening half.

Bradford said he could feel control shift in the Mustangs’ favor early in the game.

While the offense drew the ahs from the crowd it was the play of the defense, ultimately, that removed any surplus amounts of diggity or doubt as to their ability to shut down the visiting Eagles.

The Stanhope Elmore defense – aided by Calera’s inexperienced junior quarterback Edwin Karanja (14-23-1 with two touchdowns) filling in for the injured Cornelius Brown (concussion) – was able to keep the Eagles offense pinned back most of the night.

“I think we played a good game, we had a few busted assignments, but overall we came out and did our job,” said William Whitlow after the game. “Coach (Hunter) Adams (Mustangs Defensive Coordinator) had been telling us all week ‘set the tone. Set the tone.’ That if we did that, they’ll be ready to tap out.”

Whitlow – a 6-foot sophomore – made sure he made his presence known.  With a host of maroon helmets, Whitlow bull rushed Zachary Ford, the Calera punter, and blocked the kick.

“That was a lot of fun,” said Whitlow. “I did not know I hit the ball until I looked down and saw it rolling. I thought alright and then I scooped it up and scored and went and celebrated with my teammates.”

The touchdown was Whitlow’s first of his career – and with the point after sailing through the uprights and into the darkness behind the Stanhope Elmore field house – gave the Mustangs a 14-0 lead at the end of the opening stanza.

Despite the block, Ford proved to be the Eagles best offensive weapon. The senior managed to keep the ball in the air and keep pinning the Mustangs offense back, despite dodging blockers coming in from all direction on most of his kicks.

“He can flip the field for us when he has time to get it off,” said Calera skipper Andrew Zow. “We’re still working on being able to get the ball back there to him. But he is a weapon and can do a lot of things with the ball. If we can get him in field goal range, he’s deadly from 45 (yards out). We’ve just got to do a better job of getting him there.”

Kerenski McGhee, who threw a trio of touchdown passes on a 12-14-1 night, kept the Eagles on their heels on the next Mustangs’ scoring drive.

“(McGhee) is a first-year quarterback so he’s starting to understand a little bit more,” said Bradford. “Every week he gets better and he’s fast as all get out. So that doesn’t hurt either. But that last touchdown pass he threw…wow. That was a big league throw.”

The 5-foot-7 senior completed passes to Ali McMillan (a gain of 12 followed by a gain of 29) before connected with Connor Bradford from 11 yards out for the touchdown.  McMillan finished the night with a total of 86 receiving yards.  Bradford – who was on the receiving end of the other two touchdown passes, finished the night with four catches for 69 yards.

“He’s got good genetics,” Bradford said of his son Connor. “It’s a lot of fun to watch him.”

With the point after, the lead swelled to 21-0.

Late in the first half, things got chippy between the two teams on a punt return that saw Demerius Woodson get tackled near the sideline on the Calera side of the Foshee-Henderson Stadium.

The collision led to a scrum and a trio of yellow flags sailing to the turf.

The penalties – two of the three were against the Mustangs for personal fouls – gave the Eagles the opportunity to take over at the 13.

Karanja took advantage of the proximity to pay dirt, completing a first-down pass to Dallas Toles for the touchdown. The kick was swarmed and blocked. Stanhope Elmore carried a 21-6 lead into the intermission.

“I’m extremely proud of the way we played,’ said Zow. “The guys were here busting their tales every day. We’ve got some guys out and guys banged up. We are very young in spots and inexperienced. We fought hard. But the mental mistakes were tough. I’ve got to a whole lot better job of getting them prepared. Coach Bradford has done a great job of getting those guys right and changing the culture and that’s something we are trying to do.”

Late in the third quarter, McGhee connected with Teddy Harris for the 18-yard touchdown pass moving the mark to 28-6 Mustangs.

The Eagles, using every bit of scrappiness in their body, kept fighting. Karanja completed a 49-yard touchdown pass to William Ray.

“I told (Karanja) to don’t quit, keep fighting. Get back there and turn it loose,” said Zow, who played quarterback for the University of Alabama. “His thing is that sometimes he just doesn’t want to make a mistake. But sometimes you’re back there and you’ve just got to let it fly. He’s a junior, but he hasn’t had much playing time so he’s still young, in terms of playing. We’ve just got to get him more reps. And we will.”

The two-point attempt was stuffed cutting into the Mustangs 28-12 lead.

Calera threatened again, but after throwing into double and triple coverage deep downfield, Karanja completed a pass Stanhope Elmore’s Jaqori Williams.

For Williams, the interception couldn’t come at a better time after getting burned on the previous Eagles touchdown.

“That wasn’t my fault, but I will take it as my responsibility,” said Williams. “My teammates hyped me up on the sidelines. Unfortunately, I got ran down. But it felt great. It was my first pick.”

McGhee, in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, firmly planted the dagger into Calera’s comeback hopes by completing a 31-yard touchdown pass to Bradford.

“That last play, I called for it to go to another receiver, but our quarterback saw man coverage and he threw it to him,” said Bradford, who has a son on the freshman team and a daughter working as an athletic trainer.

The point after pushed the game to the final tally of 35-12.

Next week is homecoming in Millbrook as the Mustangs host the Mounties of Shades Valley.

Calera will get a much-needed bye week next week that will allow this team to get healthy and regroup for the second half of the season.