The Central High Red Devils did something last Friday night that had not been done since 2006 – they lost their season opener. The No. 2 ranked Red Devils fell 13-7 to Stockbridge (Ga.) High, ranked No. 6, in a game where the defense shined and the offense fell far short of expectations.
Central’s last loss in a season opener came 10 years ago at home in a contest with the Eufaula Tigers, 33-7. “This was a team loss tonight. No single player caused this to happen. I knew it was going to be difficult to win here in a hostile environment against a good team. We have got to get better. We expect more at Central. We have to go to work to get better,” Central Head Coach Jamey DuBose said after the game.
DuBose was quick to identify his team’s obvious weakness in the loss to the Tigers.
“We have got to go to work on offense and get some answers. That falls on me as head coach. We hard our opportunities, but we did not take advantage of them. We have got to get some guys to step up. We have to go back to work and get better. The good thing is that this happened early and it wasn’t a region game. Those are the two most important things. Maybe this will humble us a little bit more and make us understand what we are out here for,” DuBose said.Central’s defense looked at mid-season form from the opening series. In the first quarter, the Red Devils held Stockbridge to minus-10 total yards on six plays in the first quarter and recovered a fumble to stop a Tigers’ scoring threat. A high snap over the Central punter gave Stockbridge the football at the Red Devils’ 2-yard line to begin its second offensive possession. On the first play following the bad snap, Central’s Walter Pritchett recovered a fumble to give the ball back to his team’s offense at its 12-yard line.
At the half, Stockbridge had 66 total yards – 13 yards rushing on 15 attempts and 53 passing yards on two receptions. Of the total yardage, 44 yards came on one play – a 44-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7-7.
Stockbridge’s offense scored a second touchdown in the fourth quarter on a 32-yard pass with 3:54 to play that gave the Tigers a 13-7 lead. That was the only play of the second half that hurt the Red Devils. For the half, the Central defense held the Tigers to 116 total yards. For the night, Stockbridge managed only 176 total yards – 129 passing yards and 47 rushing yards – against a stingy Red Devils defensive unit.
Central’s offense was not much better, finishing the night with 194 total yards. The Red Devils managed 123 rushing yards and 71 passing yards. Those were disappointing numbers – especially the passing yardage – for Central. The trio of Jamal Couch, Quan Weaver and Justyn Ross combined for only 58 yards on four receptions. Ross led the three receivers with 41 yards on two catches. Starting quarterback Zion Ross, who left the game on the third quarter with an injury, completed 5 of 11 passes with one interception. He did not complete a pass after the opening quarter. He misfired on five passes in the second quarter and attempted none in the third quarter before the injury near the mid-point of the quarter.
“We have to some someone step up on offense and be a playmaker. We have some kids that are talented enough to do that for us. I know we lost, and I hate losing any game, but I did see some good things that we can work with to get better. And, we will get better,” DuBose said.
While the Red Devils eventually lost the game, they started it off with a bang. Karon Delince took the opening kickoff and returned it 97 yards for a touchdown and to give Central the lead 15 seconds into the contest. Central held the 7-0 lead until Stockbridge’s first touchdown tied the game just before halftime. Leading 7-0, Central drove from its own 40 to the Stockbridge 12 before stalling and attempting a 29-yard field goal. The kick sailed wide left and left the score at 7-0.
With its final possession of the first half, immediately following the Tigers tying the game at 7-7, Central drove from its 20 to the Stockbridge 12 before Webb tossed an interception in the end zone on a play designed to have Ross leap above a defender for a touchdown. However, the throw was short and Stockbridge used two plays to end the half.
After Stockbridge took the lead in the fourth quarter, Central mounted its longest drive of the night – 15 plays. The drive, using a mix of Justin Glenn and Markail Benton at quarterback, went from the Central 31 to the Stockbridge 4 before the game was decided. Along the way, Benton ran five yards on third down and Glenn threw a 27-yard pass to Ross on another third down to keep the drive alive. With the ball at the Stockbridge 8 with 34 seconds to play, Benton ran two yards and the Red Devils had to use their last timeout to stop the clock. Benton ran for two more yards on second down and the team had to scramble back to the line to spike the ball to stop the clock again. Facing a fourth and goal, Glenn was sacked for a 5-yard loss to end the drive and Central’s final chance to make a comeback.
This week, the Red Devils will make their first home appearance of the year. Tomorrow night, Central will play host to Harris County (Ga.) High. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. EDT at Garrett-Harrison Stadium. “There’s no doubt we will be playing another good team this week. Harris County, like Stockbridge, is a team that expects to be in the mix for a state title. We do not expect to have Zion back this week. We expect him to be out for several weeks if not the rest of the season. We will have to get ready to play without him. We have to get somebody ready to take his place. We will get someone ready. There’s a lot of football left this season,” DuBose said.