With high school football season two weeks away from opening for both Southeast Whitfield and Murray County, first impressions during Friday night’s scrimmage at Murray Field meant a lot to the coaches on both sides.
For Southeast coach Sean Gray, who’s preparing for his second season with the Raiders, his first thoughts were that his power-I package driven by seniors Rhett Harper at quarterback and Blake Foster at tailback looked ready to go. It was the spread package that needed some work.
For first-year Indians coach Chad Brewer — a former Southeast and Northwest Whitfield assistant — the message is that things aren’t nearly as bad as many believe. As the T-shirts in the crowd said, the past — which includes no wins earned on the football field since 2010 — doesn’t matter.
Varsity squads only took part in the first half of the scrimmage. Junior varsity and freshman teams took the third and fourth quarters, respectively.
The Raiders scored on their opening possession and were ahead 20-0 at the break.
With Harper at quarterback and with Foster as the driving running back — the two have played various positions over the years but have been starters since the first game of their freshman season — Southeast drove 80 yards in 12 plays to open the game. Austin Allen then returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown on Murray’s third offensive play for a quick 14-0 lead.
The Indians fumbled on their own 14 on their next possession, and Southeast took advantage of the short field as Foster scored from the 7 with 3:59 left in the first quarter. But the Raiders wouldn’t score again — which didn’t sit well with Gray but was encouraging to Brewer.
“I am a little disappointed right now because we seemed to let up after those early scores,” Gray said. “We have to do a better job of keeping the throttle down.”
Still, for a program that won just two games last season and hasn’t had a winning record in the past 26 seasons, the success of the Raiders’ proven offensive package and the shutout earned by their defense were reasons for optimism.
“Defensively, I loved our intensity,” Gray said.
“I saw a lot of big hits tonight, and it took us a long time to see those kinds of hits last season. It took a whole lot longer last year to hit like that.”
But the Raiders struggled when Harper and Foster moved out onto the perimeter and sophomore Will Swantic, a Calhoun transfer, was the trigger for the spread. Two fumbles and a third-down sack ended the next three Southeast possessions, and the end of the half finished the fourth.
“Our power package looked good, but the spread needs some work,” Gray said. “We did some things right, but we can’t have turnovers and breakdowns like we had.”
Gray’s disappointment in his team was the reason for Brewer’s optimism.
“It will take some time, but the one thing I have said is to get better each time you go out on the field,” Brewer said. “We gave up 20 points in the first quarter and then didn’t give up much in the second quarter. Southeast is a big, physical team compared to us, but we were pleased with some of the things we were able to accomplish. Defensively, we are trying to play more physical and with more intensity. We know it isn’t going to happen overnight, but I was very pleased.”
Murray County’s best drive came on its final possession as junior quarterback Justin Smith looking more comfortable in Brewer’s spread offense. But after driving from their own 20, the Indians were stopped at the goal line by an interception by Luis Fraire.