Vikings fall to Marshall Academy in homecoming game

By Bill Sorrell

Fayette Academy Quarterback Spencer Hayden

Fayette Academy Quarterback Spencer Hayden

Marshall Academy running back Canaan Pearson found on Friday night what Fayette Academy founders hoped to create 50 years ago: The Land of Milk and Honey.
With 270 yards of offense (128 rushing, 142 receiving), Pearson, the son of Marshall Academy Head Coach Sam Pearson, scored four touchdowns to lead the Patriots to a 48-27 victory in Somerville.
Along with Homecoming, the game celebrated the 50th anniversary of Fayette Academy’s founding in 1965. Homecoming queens throughout the years were introduced. Former football captains were on the sideline for the coin toss. In the stands were former Fayette and Marshall players who had played against each other when both schools were members of the Mississippi Private Schools Association. They are now fathers of current players.
A poem was read at halftime dedicated to the memory of Jim Armour, who died on Oct. 5, 1996, from injuries he received in a game on the field. He was 16.
“He is scoring touchdowns for Jesus,” a line read. The field house is named for him.
This season, end zones have been Pearson’s “land of milk and honey,” a term used in Exodus 33:3 for Israel’s Promised Land. Pearson gets his first name from the Bible’s “land of Canaan.”
Entering the game, Pearson had scored 10 touchdowns, rushed for 662 yards on 104 carries and had caught 24 passes for 203 yards.
“He is the cog that makes everything work for us,” said Coach Pearson of Canaan. “We try to establish him in the ball game and make the defense load the box to stop him. He works hard. He runs hard so a lot of times we give it to him even though the box is loaded.
“We try to get what we can get of out it,” he continued. “It is what we have the most confidence in. Generally we try to throw to him out of the backfield, get the ball to him, anyway we can.”
A 6-foot, 190-pound junior, Canaan said, “We have a good connection on and off the field. That helps a lot because I know what he what he wants when he calls in plays. I know exactly what he wants out of it.”
The Patriots (4-2) were also trying to get the ball to sophomore receiver Corteze Love, who caught three touchdown passes from quarterback Luke Hobson. One of three seniors, Hobson transferred from Ripley (Miss.) High School.
Completing 19 of 24 passes, Hobson passed for 297 yards, the second straight week he has passed for more than 290 yards. For the first time this season, he played error-free said Sam Pearson.
“That was big. He is coming into his own. He is really coming along with his decision- making process. He is doing an excellent job, a great job of leadership,” said Sam Pearson. “He is what you want out of your quarterback.”
The same could be said for Fayette Academy sophomore quarterback Spencer Hayden. He has helped lead the rejuvenated Vikings (4-2) to rank first in Shelby-Metro rushing and third in the state with an average of 420 yards. Fayette was 0-10 last season.
Hayden rushed for 99 yards on eight carries, including a 64-yard second quarter touchdown, before being injured in the fourth quarter.
Fayette Coach Vic Shivers said a preliminary diagnosis was a high- ankle sprain.
“Spencer was having a great game until he got hurt,” said Shivers, who installed a “Georgia Tech, Army, Navy, Air Force flex bone” offense in the spring. “It seemed to adapt itself well to us. We have enjoyed it so far.”
The Vikings, who host St. George’s Independent School at 7 p.m. this Friday, were also sparked by junior Tyler Irby’s two touchdowns and one by freshman Reid Holland.
Fayette rushed for 282 yards, with Irby gaining 82 on four carries. Will Washington had 50 yards on 12 carries and Holland, who took over when Hayden got hurt, had 42 yards on six carries. Chad Douglass added nine yards on four carries. The Vikings missed on five passing attempts.
Marshall, which hosts West Memphis Christian this Friday, had 503 yards total offense with 206 rushing. Ryan McAlexander had 89 yards receiving.
Last season, the Vikings lost to Marshall 50-8.
“We have a great young players who have come in and bought into our system and worked hard,” said Shivers, who is in his fourth season. “Out of the 11 on the field, at any given time there may be eight freshmen and a couple of sophomores so our young guys have come in and done a great job of rebuilding this program. We look forward to some great years down the road.”
The Patriots came in expecting a challenge said Sam Pearson, calling the Vikings “very much improved.” He was expecting an emotional game—still considered a rivalry despite the Vikings now members of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association—because of the anniversary celebration. The teams had one common opponent: Tunica Academy. The Patriots defeated the Blue Devils 48-26 while Tunica gave Fayette its first loss, 44-43.
Both teams matched touchdowns on their first three drives. Marshall used 6:14 of the first quarter to go 64 yards. Hobson’s 31-yard touchdown pass to Love with 5:46 left gave the Patriots a 6-0 lead. The drive included an 18-yard pass from Hobson to McAlexander and a shovel pass that Hobson pitched to Pearson on the third play that went for 18 yards. Pearson also had a 10-yard reception in the drive.
Shovel passes and over-the-top passes would be the Patriots’ bread and butter plays.
“The shovel is one of our key plays. We run it a lot in practice and just have two guys pulling. If somebody kicks out the end, I am running and reading the linebacker,” said Hobson. “We either got the shovel or the outside bubble on the receiver. We spread them out a little bit. We knew that when we spread it out, they would shorten the number that they have in the box and the running back (Pearson) would run routes in the middle of the field. We had him wide open. The offensive line was helping me out, giving me time. I never really got pressured that much. If it wasn’t for them, I would not have been able to do what I did tonight.”
The Vikings took a 7-6 lead when Holland ran 22 yards for a touchdown with 2:16 left in the first quarter. Zach Doohen’s PAT gave the Vikings their first of three leads. A 14-yard run by Hayden helped the drive that started on the Vikings’ 31-yard line.
A 15-yard run by Hobson and a 29-yard pass from Hobson to Pearson got the Patriots to the Viking 17. Hobson then threw a 17-yard pass to Love and the Patriots led 12-7 with 11:54 left in the second quarter.
Ivan Coil took the kickoff to the Viking 36 and then Hayden raced 64 yards for a touchdown and a 13-12 lead. Hayden ran the two-point conversion and it was 15-12 with 11:35 left.
Again Marshall countered. Pearson, who had a 20-yard gain, scored a 3-yard touchdown for an 18-15 lead with 7:44 left. A confrontation between Marshall’s Josh Feathers and Fayette’s Trevor Craig after the touchdown led to both players being ejected. Craig will miss the St. George’s game.
Both coaches commented on it after the game.
“It was just a guy throwing him on the ground after the play and he (Feathers) tried to fight back,” said Sam Pearson. “When you fight back they (officials) have no choice really but to throw both people out of the game.”
Said Shivers, “It was hot-headedness on both sides and not able to handle things in the right way and a lack of discipline we are going to work on next week. I promise.”
With 6:49 left, Irby’s 65-yard touchdown run gave the Vikings a 21-18 lead.
The fourth time the Patriots had the ball they scored. A 15-yard pass from Hobson to Everette Jones got Marshall to the Viking 40 before Pearson ran 17 yards for a touchdown with 2:10. The Patriots led 26-21 after Hobson threw a two-point conversion to Pearson.
Two plays later came the game’s turning point. A fumbled exchange between Hayden and Irby led to a Marshall recovery on the Fayette 39. Hobson ran to the 16 before throwing a 16-yard touchdown pass to Love with 13 seconds left in the first half, giving the Patriots a 32-21 lead.
“The key to the whole ball game was probably the turnover by them right before halftime, which gave us the ball back and allowed us to go up by two scores at halftime,” said Sam Pearson.
Shivers said, “We were back and forth scoring. We couldn’t stop them. They couldn’t stop us. Once we turned the ball over and they got the lead, with us struggling on offense, we couldn’t play catch up with them.”
Sam Pearson said, “We stayed focused on offense in spite of the penalties and poor decisions. We were focusing on getting the ball in the end zone and we did each drive of the first half. We played a solid second half.”
Padding their lead, the Patriots went on top 38-21 with 5:19 left in the third quarter when Hobson, facing fourth down and six, threw a shovel pass to Pearson for a 23-yard touchdown. Hobson’s two-point conversion to McAlexander made it 40-21.
The 87-yard drive was highlighted by a 20-yard pass reception by Pearson from Hobson and a 22-yard pass from Hobson to McAlexander.
It was the Vikings’ turn to score. A first down run by Washington after an 11-yard gain, another first down run by Washington and an 8-yard Washington run moved the Vikings to the 26. Holland ran for a first down at the 18. Three plays later Irby ran 10 yards for a touchdown to pull the Vikings to within 40-27 with 11:13 left to play.
The Vikings stopped another Marshall drive when Pearson fumbled on the Viking 19-yard line with 7:43 left. After the game, Pearson said the fumble was caused by wet gloves, which he said he will not wear again.
With 6:31 left, Hayden was injured. The Vikings were facing fourth down and seven and were going for a first down.
Marshall took over on the Viking 13 and scored on Pearson’s 1-yard touchdown with 4:41 left. Love’s shovel pass reception on the two-point conversion gave the Patriots a 48-27 lead.
Fayette freshman tackle Peyton Bowling, who had a season-high eight tackles, called it a “tough game. They had some big boys on the team, very strong. We had a lot of freshmen out there. We kept on trying. We are still getting in the groove of playing high school football. The coach coached good and I thank him for the that. Things got a little rough tonight. We have got to fix that. We have got to get our discipline up. I want to thank the Lord for nobody getting seriously hurt.”
Bowling is wanting his defense to “step up. They killed us on the pass because our secondary wasn’t as big as their secondary. We needed some taller people which we don’t have. That is the main part that beat us and the run was pretty good too.”
For his efforts, Canaan said that he might be rewarded by his father with “maybe a good meal on the way home.”
“This year has been better,” he said. “I am doing my best. I hope I can get better throughout the year. We played hard throughout the game. You just can’t quit and we didn’t quit. I think we stepped up after halftime. The defensive line did really well. Close to the end of the third quarter, momentum really turned our way.”
Shivers said of the Patriots, “They were better up front than I thought they were and they did a great job and blocking. Number 3 (Canaan) is a hoss and he runs hard and he is a big kid.”
The Patriots put in different formations to their spread offense in the second half. Sam Pearson said a constant threat to go to Love was key to what they were doing on offense along with the play of McAlexander.
The Vikings did not surprise said Sam Pearson.
“Normally they execute their offense extremely well and they did that again tonight,” he noted.
Shivers said, “I learned what we have known all along, we are young. We have some talent. It is young talent but they are starting to get into the grind of a varsity season and we are going to have some growing pains. We have a good bunch behind them coming up and we are going to keep working and the next year or two we are going to be very relevant in District 2 in the state.
“We have gotten a little bit undisciplined and I don’t think we have handled our success the correct way. We have got to get back and drive that point home. You can’t just manhandle everybody. It is not like junior high anymore. We have got to get back to technique.”
Shivers is wanting some healthy players. “We are running out of bodies.”
A defensive back and quarterback, Will Rhea is out for the season with a dislocated elbow. Hunter Pulliam, a fullback and linebacker, is sidelined with an ankle injury.
This season the Vikings have relied on Hayden, Holland, Pulliam, Washington on offense. “They have done a great job on offense,” said Shivers. “The offensive line has done a superb job. Nothing goes without those guys up front.”
Shivers named Dawson Wilburn, Bowling, Collin Fletcher, Nick Klein, Jay Earnest.
The Vikings’ 4-3 defense is led by Klein, Pulliam, Bowling, Earnest, Wilburn, Rhea said Shivers.
“It is a small school. You hear the same names over and over.”
Against Marshall, Klein had a team-high 11 tackles. Morgan, Bowling, Earnest, Wilburn, Josh Dwyer had eight tackles each.
“A lot of tackles were down field. We have got to get better at the point of attack,” said Shivers.
All of Fayette’s returning upperclassmen are playing in different positions this year than last. Earnest was a receiver and cornerback last season and now plays offensive tackle and defensive end. “He is doing a great job for us,” said Shivers. “We have a lot of people who have bought into the changes and bought into the offense and defense. We have not had many people stop us on offense. When we get stopped, we usually stop ourselves.”
Wilburn and Bowling have worked together on everything said Bowling, who was also impressed with the play of
Holland. “He works hard every single play. He doesn’t come out unless he gets hurt,” said Bowling of Wilburn. “Everybody on the team works hard and listens to Coach.”
Along with his son Canaan, Sam Pearson has a son Eli who is a sophomore cornerback and quarterback.
He also has two sons that coach with him. Jo-Jo Pearson coaches running backs while P.K. Pearson coaches quarterbacks.
Jo-Jo was a running back at the University of Memphis. He set the MPSA record with 88 rushing touchdowns along with New York Jets running back Stevan Ridley, who played at Natchez Trinity before collegiately at LSU.
P.K. set the single-season school passing record while playing quarterback at SBEC, renamed Northpoint Christian School in Southaven. He passed for more than 2,500 yards.
“With Mississippi kids coming to Tennessee, we are always going to get their best,” said Shivers, who grew up in Brandon, Miss. “They take pride in leaving their home state and showing everybody that Mississippi is not last in football because I used to be one of them. We have kids that take pride in their school and their state. We knew that Marshall was a good team. We knew they were a Mississippi squad coming up here to prove a point playing a Tennessee team. We didn’t step up to the challenge as well as I would have liked to.”