September 4, 2012

Backyard Brawl burdened by Mother Nature

More news about: Millsaps | Mississippi College
Mike Barthelemy, who rushed for 150 yards against Mississippi College, hadn't heard from his father in the days leading up to Hurricane Isaac's landfall. They finally connected again on Sunday. 
Millsaps athletics photo

When asked about the importance of games throughout the season, the classic coach-speak response is always the game their teams play next. If a rival or ranked-opponent looms two or three weeks down the road, the ol' ball coach won't be swayed to speak about any other game than the next. So, if that line of thought is really truth, then when January rolls around the most important game for all coaches is game one.

For Millsaps and Mississippi College, both teams looked to Thursday, Aug. 30, for nine months in preparation for the 13th annual Backyard Brawl. Millsaps and MC are separated by just 12.6 miles, and though the teams compete in different conferences (the Choctaws in the American Southwest Conference and the Majors in the Southern Athletic Association), the schools have been meeting for the first game of the year since 2000.

The Choctaws had won the previous three battles, but it would be the Majors' turn to host the contest in Jackson, Miss., while the visitors would travel from Clinton, Miss.

However, as the game approached, forces of nature threatened with Hurricane Isaac looming. With the effects of Katrina still fresh on the minds of the Gulf Coast inhabitants, the Mississippi Sports Council, that helped put on the contest, elected early last week to postpone the game to Saturday.

"The difficult part for us, and probably them was that we had been preparing since January for this game," Millsaps head coach Aaron Pelch said. "It was going to be on Thursday, and no other school in the state was playing Thursday. We were going to be the only show in town, and we had been building on that since January."

With Ole Miss and Mississippi State opening their seasons on Saturday, both schools feared there might be a dip in attendance. However, Millsaps reported an attendance of 2,341, which was 57 more spectators than the listed attendance of the 2011 contest in Clinton.

That withstanding, the Majors staff and players said there were some obstacles to overcome with the sudden alteration.

"Everyone on the team had been getting ready mentally and physically to play the game Thursday," said junior Millsaps center Kyle Skene. "You hype yourself up for the season opener with a big rivalry, and then we heard we weren't going to be able to play. That was kind of a let down for us."

And football aside, Millsaps had taken in 150 students from the University of New Orleans who had evacuated the area due to the heavy weather brought on by Isaac. Add to that, 17 players on the Millsaps roster were from Louisiana, with five listing New Orleans as their hometown.

"You could sense the New Orleans guys were a little wary about their families," Skene said. "They were nervous and worried about their houses and what was going on."

Pelch said that the team had to shuffle around its practice schedule, even losing the entire Thursday afternoon practice due to rain.

However, ironically, by the time the originally scheduled start time on Thursday came around, the weather was perfect for football.

"At 7 p.m. it was absolutely beautiful. The weather was clear, the temperature was great, and there wasn't a lot of humidity," Pelch said. "Then Saturday rolls around, and 20 minutes into the game we had to head back into the locker room with a 25-minute lightning delay."

For the Majors, Pelch and the crew picked up their first win over the Choctaws since 2008 with a 23-17 victory. Garrett Pinciotti tossed a pair of touchdown passes, and the Majors dominated the ground game with 258 yards on 49 carries.

The story of the game individually was running back Mike Barthelemy who rushed for 150 yards on 29 carries, scored the first touchdown of the game, but did it with perhaps more on his mind than any other Millsaps player.

"Mike had not talked to his father for most of the week, and in fact did not speak with him until Sunday, the day after the game," Pelch said. "His mother and family had traveled away to get away from the storm, but his father stayed with the house; and they lost all contact with him. Then he runs out there and performs like he did, that was special."

Skene said he had heard that several players had been affected by Isaac.

"A number of guys from the New Orleans area and Gulf Coast that were on the team had heard their families needed to evacuate," he said. "One of our players, Leland Echos, [a sophomore defensive end from Kiln, Miss.,] showed us a picture of his house; it was on stilts 11-feet high, but the water was almost up to the base of the house."

With all the distraction of the delay and the storm on the minds of the teams, Pelch said his players did an excellent job of handling the obstacles on the way to victory.

"Anytime that you can win when there is so much thrown at you it's an impressive thing," Pelch said. "I thought they handled the adversity, remained focus and didn't spend energy on things they couldn't control. And, man it's great to get that first one."

Comeback of the week

Texas Lutheran, one of only two ASC schools to collect a victory in its opener, scored 35 points in the final two-and-a-half quarters to overcome a 16-3 deficit to independent Austin College on Saturday. Brent Peavy had an impressive season debut passing for 293 yards and two touchdowns. Peavy was picked off on TLU's first offensive drive, which was returned for a 68-yard touchdown by Nathan Packard. After a TLU field goal, the 'Roos added a touchdown and an extra point to jump out to a 13-point lead. However, TLU -- powered by Peavy and running back Therron Jerome -- rattled off five-straight touchdowns to pick up win No. 1. Jerome had 110 yards on 17 carries, while Jo Jo Epps was the closer with two 1-yard rushing touchdowns for TLU.

Sul Ross State rusher Dominique Carson found the end zone on plays of 67, 75 and 100 yards.
Photo by Steve Lang

Top individual performances

Sul Ross State running back Dominique Carson may have needed the oxygen tank Saturday after scoring three touchdowns with the shortest distance covered on a scoring run at 67 yards for the senior. Carson caught a 67-yard touchdown pass, rushed for a 75-yard score and returned a kickoff 100 yards to cap things off for his final score. Unfortunately for the Lobos, they fell in a shootout to NAIA Western New Mexico for the third consecutive season 54-44. Sul Ross also debuted a new quarterback in A.J. Springer; he threw for 303 yards and four touchdowns in his first game as a Lobo.

Six of Trinity's Nyk McKissic's 14 completions Saturday were touchdowns for the Tigers as the No. 16-ranked team spoiled Howard Payne first-year head coach Roger Geise's debut for the Yellow Jackets in a 56-7 win. Trinity, often known for their ground game, gained only 97 yards on 38 carries, but gained 381 yards through the air on just 23 pass attempts.

SAA dominates, ASC struggles in Week 1

The newly formed Southern Athletic Association debuted with a statement as the five-team league was 4-for-4 to open the year (Rhodes had a bye). The aforementioned Millsaps took a 23-17 win over Mississippi College, No. 24 ranked Birmingham Southern throttled LaGrange 41-14, Sewanee pummeled Puget Sound 30-7, and Centre doubled up Bethany 42-21.

TLU picked up the only American Southwest Conference victory over an NCAA school, while Louisiana College took a 34-16 win over NAIA Webber International. However, East Texas Baptist fell 34-14 to No. 3 Wesley, Howard Payne took a 56-7 beating from No. 16 ranked Trinity, Sul Ross fell in a shootout with NAIA Western N.M. 54-44, and Willamette surprised Hardin-Simmons at home with a 58-34 victory. The pride of the league, Mary Hardin-Baylor, opens with Kean on Saturday in Belton after an off week.

ASC lands first-ever players on NFL regular-season rosters

Speaking of UMHB, the Crusaders were proud to see alums Jerrell Freeman and Nate Menkin make the final cuts on NFL rosters, which was the first time any UMHB player or player from the ASC has ever been on an NFL regular season roster.

Freeman played his last season for UMHB in 2007 and has played in the CFL until the Indianapolis Colts signed him in the spring. He is the slated starter for the Colts heading into the NFL season opener Sunday against the Chicago Bears on the road.

Menkin, despite playing in all four preseason games for the Houston Texans was released, however, he received good news when he was quickly signed by the Philadelphia Eagles who kept him on the active roster headed into the season opener Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

Games of the week

No. 24 Birmingham-Southern (1-0) at Huntingdon (1-0)
BSC dominated LaGrange 41-14 Saturday but will have to head to Huntingdon for its first road game. Huntingdon, fresh off a 49-33 win over Maryville, finished 7-3 last year, and the Hawks gave BSC all it could handle on the road last season in a 35-29 loss. The loser here will have an uphill battle the rest of the season to try and contend for a playoff spot while the winner gains momentum.

Hardin-Simmons (0-1) at No. 5 Linfield (1-0)
The Cowboys committed five turnovers in a game they expected to win Saturday, and the road doesn't get easier this Saturday in Oregon for a team that would like to contend for an ASC title and a playoff spot. HSU hits the road to face perennial power Linfield on the Wildcats' home turf. HSU needs the boost for the remainder of the 2012 schedule.

No. 12 Trinity (1-0) at Texas Lutheran (1-0)
TLU players and staff said that they wanted to leave the ASC by making an impact, and Saturday the Bulldogs could get their chance. No. 12 ranked Trinity comes to town, and TLU could set the tone for the rest of the season with an upset. However, to do so, the Bulldogs will have to dismantle a team known for its running, but that saw starting quarterback Nyk McKissic throw six touchdown passes Saturday vs. Howard Payne.

Millsaps center Kyle Skene

Tweets of the week

"well rider nation it was fun while it lasted, thanks for the love and support! guess u gotta cheer for the colts now!! haha #promotion"
-- Former UMHB LB Jerrell Freeman tweeting to his CFL fans that he's officially made the Indianapolis Colts roster -- @JerrellFreeman

"Well besides an awful first quarter on my part my team stuck beside me, fought and we pulled out the win 38-16. #bulldognation"
-- Texas Lutheran quarterback Brent Peavy talking about the Bulldogs' comeback win over Austin College -- @brentpeavy

Humorous tweet of the week

"Well I'm still fat but we beat MC!"
-- Millsaps starting center Kyle Skene pictured with Backyard Brawl Trophy after beating Mississippi College -- @justskened

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Andee Djuric

Andee Djuric is a freelance writer and copy editor currently based in Virginia. She has 13 years experience covering sports for multiple metropolitan daily newspapers in the southeast. She is a graduate of Hollins University in Roanoke, Va., with a B.A. in English.
2012 columnist: Kyle Robarts
2008-11 columnist: Jason Bowen

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