By Ron Barry
The calendar said it was August 19. But there were so many flags on the Cavalier Stadium field it could have been mistaken for the Fourth of July.
Crockett County’s 2022 football season opener with Dyer County took nearly three hours to play Friday night when a staggering 28 penalties were marked off – those were just the ones the teams didn’t decline – and each one seemed to be followed by an objection, a discussion, or both.
But finally, when the last yellow handkerchief had been tucked back into an official’s pocket, Coach Kevin Ward’s Cavaliers had soundly defeated the Choctaws 37-19 for their first win over Dyer County in a while.
Crockett now heads into this week’s game – also at home, but on Thursday night – against Ripley, a 20-7 victor over Jackson South Side last week.
The Cavaliers were penalized 11 times for 112 yards in the opener, normally a game-killer for any team. But the visiting Choctaws were flagged 17 times for 143 yards, including several unsportsmanlike conduct infractions called on Dyer coach David Whittle for protesting too vociferously.
When asked if he’d ever been in a game so disjointed by penalties, Ward just laughed briefly and said, “Yeah, I’ve been involved in just about every kind of football game you can have. But so many penalties are tough, because it makes it so hard to get into any kind of a rhythm. And we did our share of stupid mistakes tonight that could have cost us worse, but we also did a lot of good things that fortunately offset the bad.”
Most notable among the good things was the running of senior back Leanthony Cathey, playing in his first official game since suffering a devastating knee injury 11 months ago. Cathey, taking advantage of some spacious holes created by his effective offensive line of Joseph Gould, Preston Vernon, Landyn Gibson, Jordan Rainey, and Braden McCanless, along with solid blocks from fullback/tight end Carson Pruitt, galloped for a stunning 225 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries.
Yet he wasn’t the only one benefitting from the blocking. Senior quarterback Haydn Moten ran the option play to perfection throughout the contest, rushing for 113 yards himself on 16 tries and scoring twice more.
While Crockett’s defense didn’t exactly thwart Dyer County’s attack, it used a huge fumble recovery by Kentravion Price and a timely 54-yard punt by Alex Nolen that rolled dead at the Choctaw two to create the two major momentum shifts in the game.
The Cavaliers received the opening kickoff and surprised Dyer by uncharacteristically going to the air with a series of quick pops to its wide receivers. Moten completed his first four throws, one to Deuce Greenhill and three to Antuan Hobson, to get the hosts close enough for Nolen to put them on the scoreboard with a 35-yard field goal.
Dyer countered by giving the ball to speedy back Bralyn Taylor, who needed just three carries and a facemask infraction to push the ball to the Crockett 25. From there, however, the Choctaws’ penalty parade began, with an illegal procedure and two holding calls negating a 26-yard touchdown pass from Luke Robertson to Mason Patterson.
Whittle lost his composure from there – perhaps understandably so – and Dyer failed to convert on a fourth down and the length of Crockett County to go.
On the very next play, Cathey zoomed for 62 yards to the Choctaw 12, and one play later Moten took it in on an option keeper from 10 yards out with 11:55 to play in the first half. Nolen’s extra point made it 10-0.
An unsportsmanlike conduct call against Dyer was enforced on the kickoff, allowing Nolen to boom it over the end zone and forcing the visitors to begin their next series at their own 20. On the first play from scrimmage, running back Ja’bari Livingston lost the handle on the football and Crockett lineman Price dove on it, giving the Cavs the ball back at the Dyer 22.
A third-down facemask penalty against the Choctaws enabled Ward’s crew to get the ball to the one, and Cathey’s first touchdown of the night – with Nolen’s extra – made it 17-0 at the 9:09 mark of the second quarter.
That score influenced Dyer to take to the air – which it doesn’t do particularly well – on its next possession, and another third-down penalty call forced a Choctaw punt. Crockett also had a next-possession punt forced by a third-down infraction, and Dyer got the ball back at its 20 with 4:33 left in the half.
The Choctaws returned to the ground game with Taylor and Livingston getting chucks of eight and nine yards at a time before Taylor broke a 22-yarder down to the Cav five. It became downright comical at that point.
With only 13.3 seconds left, Dyer was called for an illegal procedure penalty. Taylor then ran for two yards, but Crockett was nailed for a half-the-distance facemask infraction. The Choctaws were then called for illegal procedure on the next play, followed by a three-yard gain by Livingston. Somehow, all of this happened within 12.6 seconds, because Whittle somehow managed to call a timeout with 0.7 seconds showing on the clock.
The visitors ran a trick play, with Robertson pitching back to Taylor for an apparent sweep of right end, but he pulled up and threw an uncontested pass to a wide-open Jamin Gauldin in the end zone. It was 17-6 at the half after the extra point kick sailed wide.
Dyer had the first possession of the third quarter, but a third-down bobble by Robertson, followed by – surprise – a delay-of-game penalty, forced a Choctaw punt. On the third play of the ensuing possession, Moten zipped 30 yards on an option play, was tackled by his facemask (15 more yards), and another unsportsmanlike reaction from Dyer advanced it 15 more to the Choctaw 15.
Cathey scored on a sweep of right end from there on the next play, with Nolen’s extra making it 24-6, Crockett.
At that point, Nolen – one of the best kickers in West Tennessee – was about to be kicking himself for hooking his next two kickoffs out of bounds and giving Dyer good enough starting field position to stay in the game. The Choctaws scored touchdowns on their next two possessions – although somewhat offset by yet another score by Moten, this one on a 25-yard scamper – to get a chance to pull within nine points if they could execute a two-point conversion. But, true to form, a holding penalty negated that successful execution, and then they missed the more conventional kick.
Now trailing 30-19, Dyer held Crockett and forced a punt from the Cav 44. Nolen – making up for his hooked kickoffs – rolled his 54-yard beauty dead at the Choctaw two.
“I knew at some point Alex was going to make up for those kickoffs,” Ward said. “He was either going to do what he did with that punt, or he was going to kick a game-winning field goal. He’s just too good a kicker – so I wasn’t worried about his ability to bounce back from it.”
When yet another Dyer penalty – this one for a personal foul, when the Choctaws were going to go for it on fourth down – kept it at the two, the visitors were forced to punt out of the end zone, and the punter delivered a bouncing ground ball that somehow didn’t touch anybody, and Crockett took over again at the Dyer 35.
Cathey rolled off gains of 10, 10, and 13 yards before scoring from two yards out with just 5:22 to play, and the final score was settled.
At game’s end, Ward was complimentary of his team’s off-season work and of the support it received in the stadium.
“Teams don’t ever really know how gratifying it is for a coach to see the players work so hard in the off-season to prepare for the schedule,” he said. “These guys have put in the work, and it’s showing. This game won’t define us – it won’t win us the district or anything – but a win is a great way to start. The stadium was packed tonight, and they come to see a good product on the field. These guys gave them that tonight. And the student body – the student body was fantastic the whole game long.”
As with Dyer, the Cavs will be looking to avenge a 2021 defeat when they host Ripley Thursday. Crockett lost 20-14 a year ago when they lost three fumbles in the game’s final 25 minutes after storming to a 14-0 advantage. Ward’s squad didn’t commit a single turnover against Dyer County, however.