STARKVILLE — Every player and every coach on the Calhoun City football team had received a gold medal to hang around their necks for winning the State Class 2A football championship Friday afternoon.
And then there was one more medal. A special one. It was draped over the late Tripp Macon’s jersey number 68, just in front of the state championship trophy when the Wildcats lined up for their team photo after defeating the Bay Springs Bulldogs 22-8.
As you might suspect, there’s a story there.
Macon was a sophomore on the 2014 Calhoun City football team that lost the state championship game to Bassfield on this same Scott Field turf. Wildcats head coach Perry Liles remembers the post-game ceremony.
“We were lined up to congratulate Bassfield,” Liles said. “Tripp came up to me and said, ‘Don’t worry, Coach, we will get that trophy when we play here as seniors.’ I’ll never forget that.”
Macon, who was 16, was killed in a automobile accident little more than two months later.
“You know that turned out to be the last game football game Tripp ever played in,” Liles said. “I drive by the spot where he was killed every day. It’s a constant reminder of a great young man. So this was him. He said we were going to get it when he was a senior and that’s what these kids went out and did tonight. I’m so happy for them and I am so happy for Tripp’s family.”
Taylor Lyles, a 6-foot, 4-inch, 275-pound senior linemen, was one of the players who held up Macon’s jersey for an earlier photo.
“This was for Tripp,” Lyles said. “He was the heartbeat of our team this season. That’s why we all have his number 68 on our helmets. He’s so much a part of this. I’ll never forget him. We worked out every day together so we could one day do this.”
The people in Calhoun City, especially Coach Liles, had to wonder if this would ever happen. The Wildcats have lost seven state championship games since they defeated Bay Springs in the 1989 title game. Calhoun City was 1-9 in title games before Friday night. Lyles had coached in five state championship games and won as many as you and me.
“I’m so happy for the players and my coaches who have worked really, really hard to make this happen,” Lyles said. “It’s gonna feel really good to see ‘State Champions’ go up on our dressing room wall.”
Still, the Wildcats had to wonder early when Bay Springs took a 8-0 lead midway through the first quarter on Jaylin Jones’ five-yard run followed by Cederius Lee’s two-point conversion run.
Calhoun City tied it in the second quarter when Jadarius Parker scored on a four-yard run and then ran the two-point conversion.
The Wildcats, 15-1, scored in both the third and fourth quarters, while blanking Bay Springs in the second half with a swarming defense that limited the Bulldogs to 71 second half yards.
Calhoun City threw only three passes but all were completed and one went for a touchdown. When you play defense like Calhoun City did, you don’t need to throw passes.
Look for Rick Cleveland’s column on the Pearl-Clinton State 6A Championship game later tonight.