By Mike Moore
Jackson — The mission was a simple one, or simply said, anyway.
To this point in the game, not much had gone right.
And on a night Tra Coolbaugh said his team had a shot to get the season’s first win, the East Jackson football coach took his guys to halftime trailing Vandercook Lake 14-0.
So, he instructed them, hit the reset button.
“We calmed down and talked about playing the game as if it was 0-0,” Coolbaugh said Friday.
Somehow, someway, it worked, and if the Trojans are able to make anything of the 2016 season, Thursday’s 30-28 come-from-behind victory could be the spring board this program oh-so badly needed.
“It’s a huge win, especially at the start of the season,” Coolbaugh said the next morning.
“You look at what we’ve been through, from our numbers to rebuilding to everything.”
The numbers, the rebuilding, anything and everything associated with the recent past within the East Jackson program has been ugly.
In 2011, the Trojans went 5-4, marking the first winning season for the program since 1999.
In 2012, they went 2-7.
In 2013, 1-8.
Two years ago the season was forfeited due to lack of numbers, before last year’s team fought and battled to a 1-8 record.
But last week, as Coolbaugh said, something clicked.
Yes, his team lost 12-6 to Whitmore Lake, but his guys were also driving in the game’s final minutes before a turnover ended the hope.
In the week leading up to the Vandercook game, Coolbaugh said his team was “like caged animals. They can’t wait to play.”
But the Trojans were tamed the first half, trailing by 14.
Even after opening the third quarter with a touchdown, cutting VCL’s lead to 14-8, East Jackson allowed consecutive touchdowns and fell behind 28-8 entering the fourth.
“We just went back to running our offense,” Coolbaugh said. “Eventually it started working.”
The run game shifted into high gear, scoring once, twice and then a third time with less than 45 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game at 28-28.
“We had to decide whether to kick it, and take a chance of them blocking one, or just keeping doing what we’d been doing,” Coolbaugh said. “We’d been moving the ball, so why stop?”
The hardest part of the chaos following the game-tying touchdown, was the chaos following the game-tying touchdown.
“The hardest part was calming the kids down to focus on the conversion. “We had to get our composure back,” Coolbaugh said with a laugh. “We had to get the kids calmed down and focused.”
The Trojans called a power run, and when the dust settled, Kyle Kerley was in the end zone, East Jackson was on its way to victory.
“It’s so big to get a win this early in the season. We’re not waiting until the last week like we have the past few years,” Coolbaugh said. “This really gives our guys something to build on, something to work off of.”
Where the Trojans go from here is anyone’s guess.
Another 1-8 season?
A come-back win that gives way to a playoff berth?
Coolbaugh wasn’t speculating on any of it, instead focused on Grass Lake, the next team up.
“Tough team, a good team,” he said of the Warriors, a team East Jackson has beaten 18 times in 59 tries. That includes a 17-game losing streak. “We have to stay focused on the task at hand. We’re going to learn from this game, get better and execute the next game. This is a group that is ready to go.”
Mike Moore is a play-by-play commentator and Sports Writer for JTV Sports. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s also the author of ‘Love, Defined; A Dedication to the Love, Sacrifice, and Magic of Motherhood.’
Visit http://lovedefinedbook.weebly.com for more information.