Anytime a local team loses in the playoffs, fans will certainly start asking what happened and questioning what kind of mistakes were made.
Often times there isn’t an good answer and that is the case with the Henry County High School Patriots, who were up 24-7 early in the third quarter but saw the Dyer County Choctaws score 12 points in both the third and fourth quarters to rally for a 31-24 victory on Friday in the quarterfinals of the Class 5A state playoffs.
Blowing a big lead is certainly a shocking outcome for a Patriot program that has historically been very good at closing out games. Patriot head coach James Counce Jr. said it isn’t an easy loss to accept.
“It wasn’t one big thing or one particular area that caused the loss. It wasn’t one player or even one group of players. It was a lot of little things from injuries to penalties at the wrong time to lining up wrong or going the wrong way. There were a lot of things we did that we just never do. I don’t know. Dyer County is a good football team and they just made more plays in the second half than we did. That’s all,” said Counce.
Obviously, the Patriots didn’t make enough tackles against the Choctaws’ two-headed running game from tailback LaQuitton Wells and quarterback Dain Patterson. Wells had successful runs on sweeps and Patterson was adept at faking the handoff and darting through the center of the line for big gains.
And the Patriots couldn’t spring running backs Jayln Foster, Joseph Travis and Jermarcus Johnson free for enough yards to sustain drives in the second half. Jawon Odoms set playoff records with eight catches for 136 yards in the game and he had a big play with a 15-yard reception with less than 20 seconds left to play that got the Patriots to the Choctaws’ 10-yard line.
But he wasn’t quite tall enough to pull in a ball that he got his hands on when quarterback Ryan Damron threw to him on the last play of the game. There also was a deep pass earlier in the second half that looked very similar to the one he had caught for a 75-yard touchdown in the first half. But on the second deep throw, he couldn’t quite catch up to the ball.
Football games turn out like that sometimes. Sometimes you play your hardest and do your best but someone else does it better.
“My hat is off to Dyer County. They made the plays they needed to make to win the game and move on,” said Counce.
One factor that I’m not sure anyone that didn’t walk out onto Bill Hudson Field on Friday night would be aware of, but the field conditions were terrible for high school teams to be playing on.
FIELD WAS A QUAGMIRE
The field was wet and well, the best I can describe it, it was swampy. Especially on the north end closest to Rhea Elementary School. The field was so sticky on that end of the field it was nearly sucking the boots off my feet on every step I made on the sideline trying to take photographs. I was wading water every time I had to go from the track to the edge of the field.
There were several low spots that were just really mudholes in the middle of the field. The grass was long gone. It was bad.
You may wonder how that would hurt the Patriots more than the Choctaws and that is simple. Dyer County had the size advantage in the game. In the regular season meeting, the Patriots’ superior speed ran away from the Choctaws for a 48-14 win. On Friday, the playing surface took away the Patriots’ speed advantage not only at the skill positions but at the line of scrimmage.
A guy like Davy Harrod hasn’t dominated all season by being the biggest guy at his defensive position but he had been able to use his speed and leverage to break into the backfield and create havoc. That was much harder to do in the conditions on Friday night.
Those conditions also certainly played a part in Dyer County’s two high snaps that aided the Patriots’ last second attempt to rally.
These kind of late season playing conditions at Patriot Stadium aren’t anything new. As bad as the conditions were against Dyer County, they were way better than they were last year in the semifinals when the Patriots defeated Beech 14-7 in the rain. The field was so bad in that game, that neither team could mount any consistent offensive drives.
The field has many low spots where water stands and the sidelines have numerous holes that are a problem for anyone who works or plays down there. Water simply doesn’t drain off the field.
Counce and the HCHS Quarterback Club have talked for some time with school officials about the situation and they favor installing an artificial surface. School officials have discussed the cost of going that route — which is no doubt expensive — but haven’t made a move.
Counce said on Monday that work needs to be done on the field whether it is artificial turf or a new grass surface installed.
There is more to having a great playing surface than just mowing, watering, spreading seeds and filling holes. That field needs improved drainage. It needs to be leveled again and it will need new sod. Or the money can be spent to put in artificial turf which won’t only benefit the Patriots on game day but will also allow them to practice where they play.
The school system stepped up last year with a much-needed new floor for Gamlin Gymnasium and the school’s basketball teams are enjoying the opportunity to play without having to worry about mishandling the ball or going down on loose spots.
It is time to make a similar commitment to the football team’s playing surface. Neither artificial turf nor new sod will be cheap but it is a shame to have a bad playing field impact your team’s ability to win. There were many things that added up to the reasons the Patriots lost on Friday to Dyer County. The condition of Bill Hudson Field shouldn’t have been one of them.
TOMMY PRIDDY is a Paris native who has been sports editor at The Post-Intelligencer since 1985. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.