Kemper Academy’s Brody Thomas fights off a defender during the Rams’ loss at Tallulah, last Friday.
Kemper Academy’s Brody Thomas fights off a defender during the Rams’ loss at Tallulah, last Friday.
By Rocky Higginbotham

Kemper County Messenger

Veteran Kemper Academy coach Pete McCleskey knew a lot of things would have to go right for his young team to have a chance to be competitive last Friday night in Tallulah, La.

Instead, things snowballed the opposite direction in a hurry.

Two-time defending MAIS state champion Tallulah Academy flexed its muscles early and often – rolling up its 21st straight victory with a 50-8 win over an injury-riddled Kemper team.

The host Trojans have won 34 of their last 37 contests.

“They were bigger than us and they had more speed than us,” McCleskey said. “That’s a bad combination every time.”

Star running back Joshua Collins accounted for 352 yards of total offense and six touchdowns (three rushing, three receiving) to lead Tallulah.

“He was faster than anybody we had for sure,” McCleskey said. “We couldn’t catch him, even when we had him hemmed up.”

Collins broke a 47-yard touchdown run on the game’s first play from scrimmage, and a two-point conversion pass put Tallulah up 8-0 just 12 seconds into the game.

Kemper answered with a 14-play drive but got no points, turning the ball over on downs at the Tallulah 10.

The Trojans needed just three plays to score again, with Parker Kivett hitting Collins on a 67-yard screen pass for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

The Rams struck back this time, with Brody Thomas hitting Jordan Higginbotham on a 50-yard touchdown pass. Thomas also ran in the two-point conversion, pulling KA within 14-8 with 1:31 still left in the first quarter.

But the Rams wouldn’t score again, and injuries started piling up soon thereafter.

Senior center Chase Cawthorn went down first with a dislocated elbow. Higginbotham left two plays later. Eventually, the injury list included sophomores Landon Stapleton and Matthew Cordar and junior Nathan White.

Meanwhile, Tallulah put up three second-quarter scores for a 36-8 lead, then added one touchdown each in the third and fourth quarters from Collins.

Collins finished with 229 yards rushing on eight attempts and 133 yards receiving on four catches for Tallulah, which out-gained Kemper 457-173.

Thomas was 9-of-21 passing for 100 yards in his first high school start under center, with Stapleton (four catches) and Higginbotham (three catches) leading receivers.

Higginbotham had 84 yards receiving, while Austin Castleberry’s 34 yards rushing on seven carries led four Kemper ball carriers. Jackson Mason led the KA defense with seven total tackles including two solos. Cawthorn and Stapleton had four stops apiece.

With Hebron Christian not fielding a high school team this year, Kemper now has a much-needed open date this week and is not scheduled to return to action until Sept. 1 with a trip to Calhoun Academy for a district game.

“We had four starters get hurt the first ball game, three of them starting both ways,” McCleskey said. “That’s rough for anybody but especially in 8-man.”

Stapleton has a labrum tear which will require surgery, while Cawthorn will be re-evaluated this week after returning to doctors.

Higginbotham, White and Cordar were all expected to return to practice by Wednesday of this week.