Click link below for Vicksburg Post Article from MAIS Media Day at the MS Sport Hall of Fame.
Published 9:46 am Tuesday, November 17, 2015
By Ernest Bowker
JACKSON — When they walked off the field on Sept. 25, Tallulah Academy coach Bo Barton and Joe Roberts, his counterpart at Christian Collegiate Academy, shared a handshake, compliments, and a feeling that they’d see each other again in about two months.
Sure enough, there they were Monday at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in Jackson, sitting across from each other exchanging pleasantries and jokes at the start of the biggest week of their respective careers.
Tallulah and Christian Collegiate will get together on the field Thursday at 10 a.m. at Millsaps College in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools eight-man championship game. On Monday, they sat at adjacent tables for the press conference that kicks off championship week, with plenty of respect and admiration for each other’s programs, and also a keen awareness that only one of them will celebrate a state title later this week.
“We’re here to win it. That’s what we’re here for,” said Barton, who has coached at several different schools in a 20-plus year career but will be competing in his first state championship game. “We’ve got a lot of respect for CCA and what they do, but we’re coming to win.”
Christian Collegiate won the first meeting between the teams, 46-38. That was part of an undefeated regular season for the Bulldogs (12-0), and the only loss Tallulah (11-1) has suffered. They also met in the 2014 semifinals, with Tallulah scoring a 56-39 victory.
The first meeting this season left an impression on both coaches, even if the game plans will be tweaked for the rematch.
“We learned they’re a great football team, and they’re very potent on offense. They’ve got three or four players that can score on any play,” Roberts said. “We gave up 40 points the first time, so there’s definitely room for improvement. We both had turnovers. So we’ve got to do a better job on not turning the ball over. They’re good about creating turnovers, too.”
While both teams have changed in the seven weeks since the first meeting, the biggest difference between then and now might be the effectiveness of Tallulah’s defense.
The Trojans have separate units for offense and defense, and the defense featured mostly inexperienced players at the start of the season. Barton figured his explosive offense could outscore opponents while the defense rounded into form.
The offense held up its end of that bargain by averaging 52.8 points per game and scoring a total of 83 touchdowns. The defense, meanwhile, got better and better as the season progressed.
The Trojans have a plus-19 turnover margin for the season, and in their last four games have given up a total of 56 points.
“We started off really rough at the beginning of the year. Coach Barton coached us up, and we’re a good defensive team now,” said junior defensive lineman Ethan Beene, who is second on the team with 51 total tackles. “We have a lot of confidence right now. We’re playing so much better. We’re finally working together and playing as a team.”
Barton said the turnaround on defense was simply the result of players maturing and understanding their assignments.
“We hadn’t had a problem with them hustling or playing hard. They were just doing everyone else’s job instead of their own. You look at the film and you see eight guys at the tackle instead of playing their assignment,” Barton said. “They’ve gotten better at understanding their role on the defensive side of the ball, and just doing their job.”
For all their improvement and success, there is one job the Trojans haven’t finished yet — winning a state championship.
They made it to the title game last year, only to get blown out by Sharkey-Issaquena Academy. They’ve won 20 of 23 games since moving to the eight-man division at the start of the 2014 season.
This two-year run came after a decade in the football wilderness, when the program only had one winning season between 2004 and 2013.
“It’s a lot more fun,” senior receiver Dakota Cone said. “Being beaten down for so long and playing for a state championship two years in a row, it gives us a lot of confidence. It also gives us a lot of pride in ourselves and for everyone in the school and the community.”
It’s pride that might build for a long time. There are only four seniors on this year’s roster — Cone, quarterback Mason Todd, defensive back Taylor Antley and little-used special teamer Saeed Saleh.
If the Trojans can come out on top Thursday, championship celebrations might become a regular occasion in Tallulah.
“We’ve got some very good teams coming up,” junior running back Ryan Hodge said with a smile.
Tallulah Academy vs. Christian Collegiate
MAIS 8-man championship
Thursday, 10 a.m., at Millsaps
Online: For live scoring updates on Thursday, visit Facebook.com/thevicksburgpost and Twitter.com/vicksburgpost