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In the final test before the start of division play, New Albany suffered a 31-13 loss to Cleveland, committing an uncharacteristic eight turnovers.
“Coming into tonight, we really wanted to do things well, clean things up, but I feel like we took three steps back,” NAHS coach Ron Price said. “We did a good job of wrapping up defensively, but offensively, we moved the ball well and put ourselves in good position, then we turned the ball over.”
“Good football teams can’t do that, and we’re getting into that point of the year where we have to eliminate mistakes, and if you’re going to be successful from this point forward, it’s going to be wise teams that make good decisions and take care of the football, make big plays on special teams and play good defense. That’s the things we’ve done up to tonight, but things didn’t go our way, and when things don’t go well, sometimes it creates a snowball, and that’s what happened tonight.”
The Bulldogs’ defense held the Wildcats on their opening possession, but a fumble on the ensuing punt gave Cleveland the ball once more. Holding the Wildcats once more, New Albany’s second possession ended quickly on a Boston Newsome fumble, which led to Cleveland’s first points off a field goal.
Eddie McCandney added to that early in the second quarter, scoring on a 34-yard run, making it 10-0. New Albany quickly responded with a Spencer Day touchdown, but the Wildcats scored two more times, making it 23-7 at the half.
The Bulldogs committed three turnovers in the third quarter, but Price credited his defense for holding Cleveland scoreless in the frame, while Josh Creekmore cut the deficit to 10 points, 23-13 heading into the fourth.
“We put those guys our there a lot tonight, and they made a lot of plays,” he said. “That was a big running back we faced tonight (McCadney), and you have to wrap him up and bring him down and hold on to the other guys and pursue the football. They hit us on a couple big passing plays, and we’ve worked on those all week. The coaches are yelling and calling the plays, but it all comes down to execution.”
McCadney would score once more, and the Wildcats converted on its two-point conversion attempt, improving to 3-3 on the year with the win.
“Hopefully this will be a great wake up call for us,” Price said. “We have a great football team, we just have to continue to get better. Losing hurts, and we haven’t done a lot of that, so we just need to learn from our mistakes and this can be a lesson learned.”
New Albany fans had a scare toward the end of the third quarter following Creekmore’s touchdown, as junior linebacker Jerrell Howell was injured on the ensuing kickoff and was taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital-Union County for further tests on his neck.
“He was moving everything, feeling everything, communicating with us,” Price said. “We just wanted to be safe. Anytime you have a neck injury, you want to take every precaution possible. We feel like he’s going to be fine, but we wanted to make sure.”
New Albany (4-2) now enters division play, where it will face a tough stretch, beginning with Senatobia next week. According to Price, it is now a new season and for success.
“Everyone is 0-0 at this point, and we have a tough road test next week at Senatobia,” he said. “Our kids do not know a lot about them, but they have a solid football tradition. We’re not going to look past that game next week, and at this point, you have to take every game one at a time and focus yourself and play every single down. Hopefully our kids will come back Sunday, not like what they see and come out Monday correcting mistakes.”