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Collierville blanks St. Benedict in season opener

By Bill Sorrell

After holding St. Benedict scoreless, Collierville defensive tackle Devan Reynolds was holding his 8-month-old sister Paisley celebrating the 45-0 season opening victory with his family on Friday.

“We stayed together as a unit. Our hard work in the off-season paid off for us. The scoreboard shows it tonight,” said Reynolds, a 5-8, 200-pound senior, who is the strongest player Collierville head coach Mike O’Neill has coached.

“Devan Reynolds is hard to block,” said O’Neill.

With a bench press of 460 pounds, squat of 660 and power clean of 280, Reynolds has used his strength and power to overcome larger offensive lineman.

“It really plays a big role. With my weight, I make up with my strength. I have been lifting since I was 11 years old. I have excelled in that and I enjoy lifting all the time,” said Reynolds, whose faith is strong.

His tattoo of Jeremiah 29:11, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord,
“plans to prosper you, not to harm you to give you a hope and a future,” fuels his play and life.

“I tell myself that God has a plan for me. I keep that in mind,” said Reynolds, who was baptized at First Baptist Church of Whiteville at age nine and attends High Point Church in Collierville.

Reynolds and Bailey Howell made the first tackles of the season.

They stopped St. Benedict quarterback Josh Thornton for no gain. On the next play, Reynolds held running back Maurice Howard to one yard. Reynolds led the team in tackles with five for losses of 11 yards. There would be more to come from the Dragon defense.

“The defense played phenomenal, the best I have seen them play,” said Collierville quarterback Matt Connors. “Seeing the way the defense played I just know that the offense should not have to worry about a ton this year and we can just do our thing. We can’t rely on them all the time. We have to make plays but we definitely have a solid defense behind us.”

The Dragons’ multiple four-man front combination defense held St. Benedict to two first downs, minus 18 yards rushing and 18 passing yards for total yards of zero. St. Benedict had 53 yards of lost yardage.

“I think what made it click is the way our defensive line performed. They really got after St. Benedict’s line, disrupting both the pass and run,” said Collierville senior middle linebacker John Garvey, a three-year starter who is being recruited by Southeast Missouri State University.

O’Neill praised his entire team and mentioned Reynolds, Garvey and Howell.

“Bailey had a good game. He is one of the linebackers. They all played solid. The linemen were pushing around people. I was proud of the young defensive backs and not letting people behind them,” said O’Neill.

“They got to the football well. They stopped the run. We didn’t give up any big plays. The whole game, our goal was to pitch a shutout and we reached that goal. If the other team can’t score, they can’t win,” said O’Neill. “I am proud of the way the guys approached the game. They were focused. When you have 89 guys, you don’t know how they are going to react. I thought they approached the game pretty well.”

The margin of victory was the largest in opening games in O’Neill’s five years as head coach and spoiled the St. Benedict coaching debut of John Cooley, who won a state championship at Ridgeway in 2002.

“Their execution was flawless,” said Cooley of the Dragons, who also used size and speed to win. “You can tell that they have got a lot of experienced players.”

Experience is beginning in the Collierville Youth Association, “at the bottom level,” teaching third through seven graders to run similar offensive and defensive plays. “It is starting to trickle up some. I think we are getting a little payoff,” said O’Neill.

After the game, Connors said that he felt “fantastic. It was a great win for the team. The chemistry on the team is a big part. We play for each other. As brothers we are not going to give up on each other and keep pushing, no matter the score, 45-0 in our favor or 45-0 in other teams’ favor. I think how close we are and how well we work together is what really brought us.”

The Dragons built on the momentum of a 31-0 halftime lead. “You know that you are beating them down. You have got that edge. Your guys are playing happy,” said Connors, who led the high-tempo offense completing 8-of-15 passes for 139 yards.

He threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Alex Smith and a 35-yard touchdown pass to Auggie Burke. Tevin Wilson led in rushing yardage with 84 including a 48-yard touchdown. Cole Johnson, who rushed for 37 yards, scored two touchdowns, a 1-yard run in the first quarter and a 13-yard run in the second.

Mikho Grandison gained 44 yards rushing, scoring a 43-yard touchdown. Grandison led receivers with 3-of-4 catches for 45 yards. Burke had 35 receiving yards, Marcus Bersoza 32.

Along with 12 first downs, Collierville had 306 yards total offense, with 139 passing, 167 rushing.

Entering the game senior kicker Dylan Scott had made 24 of 28 career field goals. While he missed his first attempt, a 30-yarder, with 9:18 left in the first quarter, Scott kicked a 39-yard field goal in the second quarter and made six extra points. His three punts averaged 32.67 yards and his eight kickoffs averaged 58.62 yards.

Scott’s first attempt came after the Dragons opened the season in dramatic fashion. Johnson returned the kickoff 62 yards to the SBA 35-yard line. Runs by Grandison and Connors got as close as the 12-yard line before St. Benedict’s defense stopped them.

“We kind of sputtered a little bit. You could tell the nerves were there a little bit. We were fortunate to have Cole Johnson getting a big return,” said O’Neill.

“We had some struggles on offense but I thought we moved the ball well and did a lot of good things. We have got some stuff to clean up like every game,” said Connors. “No game is perfect but I am definitely going to take tomorrow and celebrate this one. We will get back at it on Sunday.”

Collierville plays at Center Hill this Friday. SBA hosts Germantown.

The Eagles will be looking for their first victory.

“I learned that I didn’t do a very good job of preparing these guys and getting them ready to play, I take full responsibility for that,” said Cooley. “We have got to learn to compete. We have got to learn to fight harder and play with a little-bit more passion, a little-bit more desire, a little-bit more teamwork.

“We made a lot of mistakes. You take away three or four fumbles, a couple of turnovers and it’s a totally different ball game. I am not saying we would have won the game but it would have been a lot closer than it was.

“We don’t have a whole lot of depth and it shows. We had to play freshmen against juniors and seniors. They are going to grow up and we are going to mature.

We are going to get better as a team. It is going to be a process. I think a lot of them have the potential. They have to reach down inside themselves and find it.

“There is not a lot of game experience on our team right now, maybe two or three guys on both sides of the ball. We made some very fundamental mistakes. All these things can be corrected if we come with the right attitude and are willing to work hard for it. We need to work on every phase of the game. That is not a secret when you get beat like this, you have got plenty to work on. We did run out of gas.”

SBA offensive lineman Eric McGlowan said, “We need to build our chemistry. When we get down, we don’t need to put our head down. The more we stay up the more we are going to come together as a team. We need to practice perfect and come back 100 percent against Germantown.”

The Dragons came back from the first scoring opportunity with a second minutes later. A 16-yard pass from Connors to Grandison got to the SBA 32-yard line.

Johnson ran to the 1 and then scored with 6:09 left in the first quarter.

St. Benedict wide receiver Parker Cody got a first down on an 8-yard pass from Thornton at the Eagles 31 with 4:46 left in the first quarter. That momentum was stilled by Collierville’s Kyle Colwick who sacked Thornton for a 10-yard loss at the 19-yard line.

A defensive back, Cody made one of the Eagles’ best plays. He intercepted a pass by Connors in the end zone with 10:50 left in the first quarter.

“Matt was solid,” said O’Neill. “It is early in the season. You could tell a couple of times he had some happy feet trying to get out of the pocket. He made some good throws. He threw one pick in the end zone. He would probably like to have that one back. We are a throwing team. We are going to have an opportunity to make some good plays . He has worked hard in the off season. He is going to continue to improve.”

After Cody’s interception, Thornton fumbled and Harrison Lester recovered at the SBA 26. It set up Scott’s 39-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead. A fumble by Thornton was then recovered by Carson Rees. Connors’ 15-yard TD pass to Smith made it 16-0 before Scott’s PAT.

The Eagles’ punter Nick Vandeven had a 54-yard punt before the Dragons scored again. Wilson ran 48 yards for a touchdown and a 24-0 lead with 4:48 left in the second quarter.

On the next series, the Dragons scored again. The Eagles’ Baylor Bearden had broken up Connors’ pass to Grandison at the 12-yard line. Two plays later Connors threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Johnson and it was 31-0.

With 8:33 left in the third, Connors hit Burke for a 35-yard touchdown and a 38-0 lead. The clock would run the rest of the game.

Freshman quarterback Mitch Austin entered the game with 2:02 left in the fourth quarter. On his first varsity play, he handed it to Grandison who ran for a 43-yard final TD. Colwick finished the game at quarterback.

Bearden led SBA receivers with one catch for 12 yards. Thornton completed 3 of 8 passes for seven yards and Jesse Komoroski 2 of 5 for 11 yards. Cam Jones led St. Benedict’s 4-3 defense with four tackles.

For Collierville Smith added 15 yards receiving and Dalton Holpe 12 yards. Rees had four tackles for the Dragons while Ryan Stanfill had tackles for losses of 11 yards, Josh Young for losses of 10 yards and Justin Ragin two tackles for a total losses of of nine yards.

“The best thing was seeing all of our hard work over the spring and summer come together,” said Collierville senior offensive lineman John Hassell. “The big win sets the tone for the rest of the season and seeing how great we can be.”

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