• The Munford defense stops a Millington ball carries during Thursday night's M&M Bowl in Munford. Photo by David Perry

With the gusty winds swirling over the Munford Football Stadium field, Munford head football coach Slade Calhoun was flashing a smile brighter than a lightning bolt from tropical storm Laura.

Calhoun had the grin of a winner, gripping the game ball from the 2020 M&M Bowl. The first-year head coach of Munford secured his first victory as the leader of the program, 29-3, over the rival Millington Trojans.

“It feels great man especially to do it in the M&M Bowl,” Calhoun said. “For the guys who gave me the game ball, I wasn’t expecting that at all. I’m super excited anytime you can beat a traditional powerhouse like Millington. With Coach Michael, I consider him a real good friend of mine. It’s a real good win.”

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The previous week the Cougars were humbled by another rival, the Covington Chargers, 41-6. Munford went back to the drawing board looking to bounce back and get into the win column for the first time in 2020 against the Trojans.

With Aug. 28 marked on the calendar, a weather forecast predicted strong storms hitting the Memphis area Friday from Hurricane Laura. The annual contest against the rivals from down Highway 51 was moved up a day.

It was time for some Thursday night football with the Cougars jumping out 8-0 in the first quarter. Junior running back Auvic White found the end zone at the 4:13 mark from 6 yards out. He added the two-point conversion.

The Cougars (1-1) went ahead 14-0 in the second quarter when Traveon Hawkins exploded up the middle of the field for a 68-yard touchdown run. Hawkins’ big run came with 9:17 remaining in the first half.

The Cougars needed that big play to help erase penalties accumulated throughout the first half. Munford had numerous flags ending its offensive drives and extending possessions for the Trojans.

Millington used a combination of timely penalties and productive plays from freshman quarterback McCoy Pugh to drive the ball within field goal range.

Freshman kicker Chase Michael drilled his first varsity attempt from 28-yards away to make the tally 14-3.

“It really starts with our offense,” Hawkins said of the Cougars’ success. “We had too many mental mistakes. We had too many penalties. We have to get rid of those. In the second half, we decided to come out with a stronger mindset.”

The Cougars’ defense led the way in the first half with solid line play and a pair of interceptions from senior defensive back Jace Hodgin.

In the second half Munford quarterback Jaxon O’Neal and crew seized control of the game by limiting mistakes and marching the ball the down the field.

Within striking distance of the end zone, O’Neal hit Hodgin for a 19-yard TD pass. Hodgin tiptoed near the sideline while pulling in the catch to make the score 20-3. O’Neal added the two points to increase the Munford lead to 22-3.

The second half featured a brief power outage from the strong winds building up in the area. The Cougars turned out the lights on the 2020 M&M Bowl when Hawkins found the end zone for a short TD run. The score was 29-3 entering the fourth quarter.

“It feels good to get this win,” Hawkins said. “We feel like it’s going to get us back into a rhythm and possibly start a winning streak.

“We learned that we have to come out and give it our all,” he added. “I feel like we were not mentally prepared for that game. It all starts in practice. We have to come in focused to get mentally prepared for the game.”

Calhoun said the Covington game was a football reality check for his team.

“Covington is a tremendous team,” he noted. “They’re probably going to be in the state finals, I would imagine. They’re a tremendous program. We learned we’ve just got to focus on the Cougars. We can’t worry about anybody else. We had to fix some mistakes. There is a big difference to go from defending the flex bone to the spread offensives of today, the modern spread.”

“We had to go clean up some mistakes and work through some injuries,” Calhoun continued. “We had some young guys step up. We played a freshman and sophomore a great deal on defense. They really came through.”

Laura was a reality check for the South region of the United States. The current global pandemic is a frequent reminder of real world issues. Calhoun and his program got another reality check from COVID-19 when original Sept. 4 opponent the Collierville Dragons had to postpone the game after a pair of players tested positive with coronavirus.

Then a call came in from the campus of St. Benedict giving the Cougars a Friday night opponent… for now.

“I got a call today from their AD Will Hudgens today,” Calhoun concluded. “He said, ‘Would you be interested in playing next week? My guys want to play. I know your guys want to play.’ And I want to play. I said let’s do it. I owe it to these seniors to try to find them a game every week by hook or crook. I have to do whatever I have to do.”

The Trojans (0-2) are scheduled to return home next Friday to play the Brighton Cardinals. Brighton (1-1) will look to regroup after a 35-0 defeat to the Dyersburg Trojans Thursday night.

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