There was a sound at Collierville’s new football stadium not heard before.
After the Dragons’ dramatic fourth quarter rally that overcame a 15-point deficit to defeat Southwind 29-28 on Friday, players swarmed the field, hearing a throwback from the old school that debut-making head coach Joe Rocconi brought to the new school.
At the invitation of Rocconi, Jenny Cox Cordell, the daughter of the late Paul Cox, the legendary Collierville coach with the school’s winningest record, rang a victory bell that had been built in 1998 at Herman-Osteen Field in honor of Cox.
“One of the things I wanted to do when I got the job because Coach Cox means the world to me and why I’m in coaching, I wanted to honor him that way and bring the tradition back over here,” said Rocconi, who was an offensive lineman for Cox from 1991-94.
“It was a great tradition and awesome to hear that bell, said Rocconi, something he didn’t hear because he was playing at the University of Memphis when the tradition started.
Collierville senior Caleb Myers, who kicked a career-high 42-yard field goal and scored the first points of the 2019 season with a 21-yard first quarter field goal, said, “”It was great having the victory bell back and bring back old traditions. That win was something very special for Coach and I’m just happy we could give that to him.”
When sophomore running back Duple Travillion ran 32 yards for a touchdown with 4:07 left to play, Dragons quarterback Mitch Austin yelled, “’Game!’ Once he was all home, I started celebrating.”
Breaking the 28-28 tie with the extra point, Myers, Travillion and other players waited three more minutes before the party officially began.
Jared Dawson, a preseason first-team all-state and Louisville commit, pounced on Southwind quarterback Chris Kelly’s fumble at the Jaguars 30-yard line with 1:19 left, making the bell toll for Southwind.
“I don’t think my teammates ever heard an opening-game victory bell. It was exciting and emotional to hear it. Our team made Coach Rocconi proud and it’s great to see him as well as our city happy,” said Travillion.
The emotional game featured break-out, backed-in-a-corner runs from Southwind’s Geoffrey Williams and Romal Webb.
Williams, who runs a 4.5 40, scored a 71-yard touchdown with 5:20 left in the first quarter. Webb, who runs a 4.49 - 40 and was fifth in the state last year after rushing for 1,988 yards which netted 26 touchdowns at Raleigh-Egypt before transferring, scored on a 90-yard pass play from Kelly with 4:04 left in the second. That put Southwind up 21-10 after Christopher Barron’s PAT.
“Just like the Memphis coach told me, get to your momma’s house before the lights catch you,” said Webb of his runs including the 90-yarder that was close to his personal best. He has scored on a 105-yard touchdown run before.
In the third quarter Webb scored on a 76-yard run and the lead was 28-13. Webb would finish with a team-high 243 yards, 111 receiving, 132 rushing.
Southwind head coach Rahnmann Slocum said Webb “was the spotlight of the game.”
What helped turned the game around for the Dragons was their only punt of the game. It was what Austin called a “D-1 punt, legit.”
From his 35, Sam Cardenas kicked a 55-yard punt and trying to field it, Southwind’s Kylan Knight mishandled the catch and ran back into the end zone for a safety. That sliced Southwind’s lead to 28-22 with 2:20 left in the third quarter.
“That changed the whole momentum of the game. I knew once we did that we were going to win the game,” said Austin, who three minutes earlier had thrown a 58-yard touchdown pass to Scottie Alexander to pull the Dragons to within 28-20.
Exclaimed Rocconi, “No doubt, Sam drilled it. We got points and you don’t see that a lot on one punt. I was so proud of him. “
Said Cardenas, a junior, “I had a lot of adrenaline. I knew it was a big play and if I pushed it back it would help our team a lot. Thank God I did. We got them and pushed them back in the end zone and got that safety, changed the game and we won it. I would like to thank my teammates, my long snapper (Jay Cole). He did a great job getting me that ball back. It was a perfect set up for me as a punter. It switched the momentum of the game as well as Duple’s touchdown.”
Collierville offensive lineman Noah Upchurch said, “I have known Cardenas the past three years. He has been doing that since freshman year. Sam is a great kicker, all-region punter last year. I just love him.”
Not only was Rocconi proud of Cardenas but his special teams. Each of Myers’ six kickoffs were touchbacks. “Automatic,” said Rocconi. “He hit a couple of good field goals that kept us close. Everybody can say we should have got touchdowns but we got field goals to where we could come back and score. Holder Hudson Hollenbeck did a great job.”
With 255 yards, Austin led the game in offense. He completed 19 of 30 passes for 248 yards, two touchdowns and rushed for 7 yards.
“I am the most experienced guy on this team. I have to lead these guys and if they have a question they come to me. If we need a big play I am willing to step up for it,” said Austin.
Rocconi said, “Mitch made a ton of plays.”
Cardenas said, “Mitch is an absolutely great athlete. He can run it and throw. That pick (an interception by Southwind’s Datavios Bledsoe with 17 seconds left in the third quarter) was unfortunate but everything else was outstanding.”
Rocconi said that Duple made “great plays. I thought our offensive line did a great job of battling.”
Upchurch, Jacob Shelton, Ethan DePriest, Gavin Turfler, Ian Falkner started on the O-line and with Cole Waycaster adding strength to it, they opened holes for Travillion, who rushed for a team-high 110 yards.
“During the game my teammates consistently encouraged me to keep my foot on the gas pedal and that’s what happened when I scored the (last) touchdown,” said Travillion, his first on the varsity level.
“Duple was wide open. He hit it and I knew he would be gone. He can outrun (anyone). He is fast and quick,” said Austin.
The Dragons got an outstanding surprise contribution from wide receiver Andrew Smith, a senior playing his first football game. Smith, a point guard on the basketball team who also played baseball, decided to drop baseball for football.
“No one knows who he is. Who is this? His first year ever playing, an athletic kid, catches anything. He is a big part of what we do,” said Austin of Smith, who led receivers with 6 catches for 120 yards and caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Austin, making the Dragons’ first touchdown of the season. It came with 10:42 left in the second quarter which got the Dragons within 14-10.
“He made a lot of catches. He did a great job,” said Rocconi of Smith, whose brother Alex Smith played for the Dragons, graduating in 2016.
“When I catch a big pass, it is in my head keep moving forward, keep pushing, don’t stop. When that motivates me, it’s over with,” said Smith, who called his ever first football game “amazing.”
“I wish I had played all four years. This is amazing. I loved it. There was no better feeling. I am blessed to be out here. I started off rough. I had a fumble on the first catch. I just had to bounce back and not let it get to my head and keep pushing through anything.”
The Dragons had a push from starting defensive linemen, along with Dawson, Ethan Hassler, Davinci Floyd, Kentavious Willis, Eli Eubanks.
“Jared, he is a man,” said Smith. Rocconi said that Dawson “battled” while Cardenas said “Ethan Hassler came out and attacked. Jared Dawson, Duple were outstanding as well.”
Austin said, “Christian Flynn (linebacker) did an awesome job.”
Hassler and Dawson each had 6 tackles with Flynn making 5 and Floyd 4. Flynn and Floyd each had sacks.
“Ethan, Kentarius Willis are definitely big factors,” said Smith.
Willis had 3 tackles along with Jaden Malone, Keyshawn Williams.
“The way we overcame when we were down, pushed through and came out with a victory, winning as a family, as a group of teammates, as a town of Collierville really shows how football can bring people together,” said Cardenas. “It was absolutely exciting, first Friday night lights of the year.”
After Travillion scored his go-ahead touchdown with minutes left, he got a hug from Upchurch. After the game Dragons running back/linebacker LaDarin Brown got a Bible lesson from Collierville fan LaToyia Christopher.
“That was Abraham faith that you have to have in this game. Where it looked like it was death but if you just hold on to the end there is life. There is a ram in the bushes. As long as there is time on the clock you are able to pull it out and they did. God is faithful,” said Christopher.
She was referencing Genesis 22 where Abraham, being tested by God, was about to sacrifice his son Isaac on a wood altar but God supplied a ram caught in a thicket for the sacrifice.
Brown said, “We didn’t stop believing. This is amazing. We are going for that state championship dog.”
In the first meeting between Collierville since Slocum became the Jaguars’ head coach in 2015, the Dragons were facing a team Rocconi called “tough.”
“They have some great athletes, great coaches. It was a great challenge for our defense because they busted several big runs. It’s a challenge each week and we are going to see that. They are going to get some yardage. We have to keep bouncing back and plugging away,” Rocconi said.
Wearing the purple-stitched zip code 38125 on their jerseys, Webb said that players consider themselves “tough guys” and want to represent the only school in that zip code.
“Everybody on the field has got to prove we are tough guys,” said Webb, who wrote “Long Live Auntie” and drew a heart on his wrist tape. His aunt, Lenita Jackson, died of cancer about a month ago. He had lived with her a year.
Slocum, who was a middle linebacker at Greenville (Illinois) University and graduated in 1996, said his team is “tough and fights through adversity.”
“I love coaching these young men. I love trying to turn the boys into men. That is what the game is about. When you face adversity you have to learn how to fight through. That is one of the things we have to learn. We met some adversity. You have to learn ways to fight through it.”
The Jaguars’ motto is “No Excuses Make It Happen.”
They finished 7-5 last year, losing in the second round of the playoffs. They were third in Region 8-5A at 5-2.
The Dragons faced running back/defensive back Steve Guy, a senior, who rushed for 1,466 yards last season and scored 11 touchdowns and Williams, a senior, who rushed for 888 yards and scored 8 touchdowns.
“They call us the three-headed monster for a reason,” said Webb, who has an offer to play at Tennessee State and is also being recruited by Southern Illinois, Middle Tennessee, Austin Peay, University of Tennessee-Martin, Southern Mississippi.
After spotting Collierville a 3-0 lead, the Jaguars’ multiple offense got into gear.
What helped the Dragons score were 12 and 20-yard runs by Travillion, a 6-yard first-down run by John Hampton. Later a tackle by Jerome Sanders stopped Travillion at the 5, the closest the Dragons got before Myers’ first field goal.
Southwind’s DeMartian Houston and John Redick stopped the drive with tackles of Travillion.
With Hassler sacking Kelly for a 10-yard loss at the 20, Webb ran 9 yards then Williams 71 on fourth down for a 7-0 lead with 5:20 left in the first quarter after Barron kicked the PAT.
“He kicked the game off for us,” said Webb of Williams’ touchdown.
After Smith fumbled his reception, Michael Neal recovered at the Dragons 10. Webb ran 7 yards and Guy 3 for a Jaguars touchdown less than a minute after scoring their first. Barron made it 14-3 with 4:29 left in the first.
The Dragons then went on an 11-play, 70-yard drive to score.
Hampton’s 14-yard run, Smith’s catches of 7 and 13 yards, Braden Bender’s 9-yard completion, helped get the Dragons to the Southwind 28. Austin threw a 15-yard pass to Smith and then hit him for the touchdown. Myers cut it to 14-10.
Myers tried to cut the lead even closer. Facing fourth and 12 at the Southwind 17, Myers goes in to attempt a field goal. However Rocconi calls a fake and Hollenbeck throws a pass to receiver Devin Shegog that falls incomplete at the 5.
“It was a little overthrown but that is fine, he was wide open,” said Rocconi.
“We fake it again it is going to be a touchdown,” said Cardenas.
What Southwind did next could have been a game-changer.
Leading 14-10, Webb sprinted 90 yards for a touchdown and 21-10 lead.
“That could have been a back-breaker,” said Rocconi. “That sudden change could have broken their morale and it didn’t. I’m very proud of our guys and their fight and their heart.”
An 18-yard pass completion from Austin to Smith, who are best friends, and then another one to Smith, who made a great 11-yard catch, set up a 42-yard field goal try by Myers with 40 seconds left. It went wide left.
The Dragons went into halftime trailing by 11. They were about to get a word from Rocconi which he would later call the game’s turning point.
“At halftime Coach Rocconi gave us a nice speech,” said Upchurch.
Said Rocconi, “I looked at them at halftime. I told them we had been talking about how we are going to respond to things. I don’t know if I have seen you respond to something like this. Here is your chance.
“They had a look in their eyes and to be honest I felt real good. I would say the turning point was their confidence at halftime.”
Said Austin, “We are in the locker room and you know what, we have been training for this all year long so went back in there and changed some things and came out with a victory.”
Upchurch said, “We played hard. Defense played really well in the second half and that turned up the offense and we played really well too. We have been saying all off-season we are the only ones who think we can do something. No one else does. That is what he (Rocconi) said. If we want to do something we can.”
The defense needed to blitz more in the second half said Austin “because they have three stud running backs.”
At halftime in the Southwind locker room, Slocum told his team to keep the same mental focus they had the first half.
With 8:43 left in the third, Myers’ 42-yard field goal made it a one touchdown game, 21-13.
It took Southwind only 41 seconds to expand their lead. Webb ran 76 yards for a touchdown with 8:02 left and Barron kicked it to a 15-point lead 28-13.
A 22-yard pass from Austin to Smith help start the rally. Facing third down-and-20 from the Dragons 42, Austin threw a touchdown pass to Alexander. Myers made it 28-20. Myers called it a momentum boost.
Next would come a haunting mental mistake said Slocum.
After Talandrius Gatewood sacked Austin for an 9-yard loss Cardenas entered the game. Facing fourth-and-16, he punted.
Trying to make yardage, Knight muffled it which led to the safety.
“We always go over with our punt returns team that if the ball goes inside the 10, leave it alone We practice situations like that all the time. He should have done that,” said Slocum. “That was also a turning point. We made too many mental mistakes on defense and this is what hurt us.”
A 9-play, 72-yard drive by the Dragons made the victory bell ring.
“We were driving the field. I wasn’t nervous, I knew we were going to win,” said Austin.
At the Dragon 34, Duple got a first down after a 7-yard run. Smith caught a 12-yard pass. Tyler Collier ran for 9 yards. Travillion got a 6-yard first down run to the Jaguars 32.
Then as Travillion raced toward the end zone, Rocconi was thinking “We got it.”
Cardenas said, “To see something like that come out of a sophomore is extraordinary.”
Travillion said, “I got the right blocks to secure my run for the victory.”
Austin said, “I couldn’t be any more proud. I feel like we made a lot of mistakes. I should have done better. That is my opinion. I didn’t do like I wanted, that interception especially. I shook it off and went back out there. It was the first game and I was expecting it (some mistakes). I am glad we fought. We can go a long way. We can face anything, any adversity and we are fine. We can come up with a W.”
Webb said the Jaguars came out with effort.
“We have to learn how to stay focused and end the game right. This game we have got to control. We are going to have to put more emphasis on practice and have a great next week.”
The Jaguars will be practicing their pass coverage. They stopped Collierville’s mid-running game multiple times.
“That is one of the things we are known for, stopping the run. We have got to get better pass coverage. It’s easy to stop the run. We go up against our offense all the time. We are a run- first team. It’s easy in games against teams that run the ball,” said Slocum, calling Austin “real elusive.”
“We tackled well. Made some big plays on defense. If we keep going on our assignments we are supposed to do and correct all that we will be OK.
We can’t depend on the big play. We have to learn how to drive the football. We have graduated four offensive linemen. They were three-year starters.”
Offensive lineman from last year in college are offensive lineman Josh Bean at Central Missouri and Kristian Williams at Oregon. William Knox is a defensive lineman at Independence (Kansas) Junior College.
His offensive line this season includes starters Rolando Jones, Marquavius Gladness, Devon Holmes, Tashard Wilkins, Jarvis Bohanon.
Defensively the Jaguars, who run a 4-2-5, were sparked by Kevion Patterson who had 8 tackles, Datavious Bledsoe with 5 and 4 each by Kameron Collins, Neal, Houston, Redick, Devion Holmes. Collins, Patterson and Zach Feneceroy each had two crucial pass breakups and Neal 1.
“I feel good. We have got a lot of work to do. I have faith. I’m a spiritual guy,” said Slocum, who has Hebrews 11:1 on his twitter account, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
“Faith is one of the most important things in life because without faith you are weak,” said Solcum, who coached with Rocconi in the 2016 AutoZone Liberty Bowl All-Star game.
Praising the Dragons, Slocum said, “They are fundamentally sound. They did a great job.”
The Jaguars had 302 yards total offense, Collierville 352. Kelly completed 3 of 6 passes, all to Webb, for 111 yards. Southwind rushed for 191 yards with Guy gaining 11, Williams 83 of the total. Webb led his team’s punting with two for a 28-yard average.
For Collierville, Alexander finished with 81 yards receiving, Hampton 14, Luke Tankersley 5.
One reason Smith wanted to play football because “the team made me feel like family.”
Said Cardenas said that Rocconi “has put a new emphasis on family. Working together as a whole group instead of just one has switched the game up for Collierville.”
Smith and Austin wear the same kind of cross. “Jesus is everything. He blessed me to be out here. Whenever I have problems I ask him to and wait for him to respond to me,” said Smith.
Said Travillion, “Faith helps a lot, knowing God is watching over me throughout the game and knowing I only fear God, not the opposing team, is my mindset going into a game.”
Going into the season, Myers’ goal is to kick a 50-yard field goal.
“It’s all form that gives me the distance and just being confident in my power. I’ve worked with two great kicking coaches James Wilhoit and Corey Acosta who have taught me to kick,” said Myers, who has kicked a 65-yard field goal in practice.
Kicking against Myers and Hollenbeck helps Cardenas.
“I think that is a blessing. Not many kickers are able to compete against other 4.5 to 5-star punters,” said Cardenas.
After the game Slocum told his team, “You can’t be upset of things you have control over. They didn’t finish it. There is nothing to cry about.”
Calling it an amazing feeling, Travillion said the win “means everything. The city of Collierville deserved this win, the alumni, the fans got to see us persevere and show out. I’m extremely proud I helped contribute to my team’s win. We want more wins which would lead to playoff wins and then contending for a possible state championship.”
Myers said, “I feel great. I think the whole team enjoyed the win and it really gave us confidence of what we can do. I think we need to enjoy the win but also realize we have a very long season.”
How did Rocconi feel after the win? “Outstanding,” he said.
Smith called the sound of the victory bell “beautiful. I am so blessed.”