CAMILLA --- For hours, all Mitchell County football coach Larry Cornelius could do was pace and wait.
And then when he thought Friday’s game against Clinch County was finally ready to kick off, they told him he had to wait even longer.
“It was tough,” Cornelius said. “Those Friday night lights come on, and you are ready to rock and roll.”
Instead, it was only the thunder that rolled for much of the evening across Southwest Georgia, where teams all around the area had to wait out a lingering thunder storm for hours before Friday night’s Week 1 games could get underway. The delays kept many teams on the field until after midnight, including Cornelius and his Eagles, who lost to Clinch, 22-14, and didn’t finish their season opener until 12:30 a.m.
The game officially kicked off at 9:21 p.m. --- nearly two hours past the 7:30 p.m. scheduled start time --- but to make things worse for the Eagles, they didn’t have school on Friday and showed up for pre-game warm-ups and preparations at noon.
“These kids have been here for 12 hours,” Cornelius said shortly before 1 a.m. early Saturday. “And considering we had our scrimmage two weeks ago, our kids were ready to play. It was really tough.”
But like many of the games around the area, it was a series of 15-30 minute delays piled on top of each other that kept prolonging the kickoff. After a close lightning strike that postponed the start time another half an hour, Cornelius told his players, who stayed in the locker room for the entire two-hour delay, to simply lay down and take a nap.
“At one point we turned out the lights and were trying to tell them to lay back and chill,” Cornelius said. “We would tell them to put their headphones in and just kind of get out of your body for a little bit. You are just trying to get them off of their feet. You try to hit a climax at the beginning of the game, but that’s tough to do when you never know when you are going to start.”
Just down the road in Colquitt, Miller County and Schley County braved the same storm and didn’t get out on the field until 9:40 p.m.
“It was a darn monsoon,” Miller County coach Frank Killingsworth said at 1:30 a.m. as he headed home from a 28-22 season-opening win. “It was lightning, and it was raining. The lights kept going out on us. During the delay, the rain washed away all the sideline markers and water bottles and we had to go fish them out of the drain pipe before we could start.”
As far as season openers go, Killingsworth couldn’t remember a wilder one.
“I just don’t like starting games on Friday and ending them on Saturday,” he said with a laugh.
It was a lot easier for the Pirates to look back on Friday’s “monsoon” with a smile after Rod Williams scampered in for a 6-yard TD run with 17 seconds left to break a 22-22 tie and send Miller to a 1-0 start to the season.
Williams finished with two TDs, while Algin Merritt and Terrious Buggs each had one rushing TD for a Pirates team that had to sit in the locker room for over two hours with lights flickering and the wind howling. During the pre-game delay, Schley County’s band and cheerleaders decided to make the two-hour trip back to Ellaville --- but Killingsworth said hundreds of fans waited out the storm ands tuck around for the end of the game.
“We had a pretty decent crowd that hung around. I think what folks did was leave and get something to eat and they come back,” Killingsworth said. “Those are some die-hard fans that sat through that one.”
And as for Killingsworth’s post-game speech at 12:15 a.m.?
“All I said was, ‘Boys we’re practicing at 9 a.m. Monday. Great job,” Killingsworth said.
QUICK START: It took over a month for the Crisp County football team to get its first win of the 2012 season.
The Cougars worked the kinks out a lot quicker this year.
In Friday’s season opener at Turner County, Crisp County quarterback Witt Campbell threw a pair of TD passes to lead the Cougars to a 14-12 win.
“We are five games ahead of where we were last year,” Crisp coach Lee Campbell said. “It feels a whole lot better than last year.”
Last year it took the Cougars until Game No. 5 --- a 28-8 win against Dougherty --- to get their first points of the season, but 2013’s first score came in the second quarter when Campbell tossed his first TD. A quarter later Landon Whitman caught a TD pass from Campbell to put the Cougars on top 14-6.
Turner took advantage of a roughing the punter penalty in the closing minutes and was able to put together a drive that ended with a TD with a little over two minutes left, pulling to within two points of the Cougars. Crisp, however, stopped Turner on the ensuing two-point conversion to seal the win.
“We have been preaching all year to the guys that a win is a win. It didn’t matter if we won it with our offense or our defense or if it was a blowout or 2-0. We made some mistakes (Friday), but a win is a win and we will get better,” Lee Campbell said.
TOO MANY MISTAKES: Sherwood football coach Otis Covington just started going down the list.
There were players out of position on defense, snaps that sailed over Eagles QB Chris Thomas’ head, mounting penalties and two separate times the Sherwood defense got caught sleeping on fake punts.
To say the least, Friday’s game between Sherwood and Tiftarea was frustrating for Covington, who watched Tiftarea win, 32-6, and drop the Eagles to 0-2 on the season.
“I’m going to attribute this to mental errors,” Covington said. “We made some mistakes, and they were huge. The main thing is that we have to get sharper at what we do and execute at a higher level.”
The Eagles hung right with Tiftarea for much of Friday’s game and trailed 13-6 going into the fourth quarter, but the visiting Panthers scored 19 unanswered points in the final 12 minutes run away with the game.
The lone score for Sherwood came in the third quarter when Ahmad Mosely ran an interception back 35 yards for a touchdown, pulling the Eagles to within one score.
“That definitely gave us a shot of momentum going into the late third quarter,” Covington said. “But we just made too many crucial mistakes in the fourth quarter. Fixing these mistakes is going to be key for us once we hit region play.”
Thomas led Sherwood with 95 yards on 10 carries, while running back Chaz Griffin added 77 yards on 10 carries. The Eagles will try for win No. 1 again next Friday against Northside Methodist Academy (Ala.).
PELHAM ROUTS BACONTON: Talk about making a statement. The Pelham Hornets played host to rival Baconton on Friday night and sent the Blazers home with a 40-0 drubbing.
“We played pretty well,” head coach Frankie Carroll said Friday night. “Defensively, I don’t think we allowed a first down. We got a lot better from our scrimmage, and we’ve got to do that every week. Our kids played hard even though the weather was nasty.”
Hornets tailback Darren Jackson rushed for three touchdowns on the night, while quarterback Clarence Almond connected with Desmond Parker for a 40-yard touchdown pass.
The Hornets move to 1-0, and will travel to Mitchell County to face the Eagles.
WESTOVER STARTS WITH LOSS: The Westover Patriots started their season on the road, and to their dismay, the Tift County Blue Devils were not gracious hosts, as the Patriots fell 19-3 to the 1-AAAAAA Blue Devils.
Senior kicker Tanner Sharpe booted a 50-yard field goal to tally the Patriots’ only points of the contest.
The Patriots hit the road again next weekend when they travel to Jonesboro.
SOUTHLAND OUTLASTS WEATHER, BROOKWOOD: A weather delay kept Southland and Brookwood from finishing their matchup until Saturday morning, but the Raiders were able to prevail on the road, knocking off the Warriors 24-10.
Raiders tailback Dustin Shattles got things started with a 29-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
After Brookwood answered with a touchdown pass, Bryce Driver one-upped Shattles with a 30-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
A 33-yard Cleve Bass field goal stretched the Raiders’ lead to 17-7 in the fourth quarter, where Shattles capped the game with a 19-yard touchdown run.
The Golden move to 1-1 on the season and will host Southwest Georgia Academy in Americus next Friday.
OTHER SCORES AND HIGHLIGHTS: In his first game as head coach of Americus-Sumter, Reggie Mitchell watched his Panthers fall to Kendrick in double-overtime, 14-8. … The Seminole vs. Early County game was postponed and rescheduled for tonight at 7:30 p.m. It will be the season opener for both teams. … After a 20-point win against Swainsboro to start the season last week, Worth County nearly knocked off powerhouse Cook on Friday but ultimately fell, 36-29. Last season, the Rams lost to Cook, 36-2. … Former Bainbridge coach Ed Pilcher started his tenure in Berrien with a 39-13 win against Calhoun County in the season opener for both teams. The Cougars, who beat Berrien in last year’s season opener 36-26, have now lost 10 straight regular season games. … Marion County blanked Terrell County, 35-0, handing the Greenwave their worst loss since a 42-6 setback to Lee County in 2011. It was also the first time Terrell County has been shut out since Aug. 26, 2011 when it lost to Monroe, 26-0.
Herald writer Timothy Threadcraft contributed to this report