JACKSON, Miss.- A solid foundation for the future was built by the Belhaven football team with a successful 2012 campaign. The Blazers showed a tremendous amount of resiliency after a rough 0-3 start to the season, finishing the campaign with a 6-5 record. Truth be told, if a few plays here or there go differently the team could be looking at more victories. Belhaven also re-wrote the school record books on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball thanks to some outstanding team and individual performances this season.
Belhaven traveled to Williamsburg, KY to open the 2012 campaign on Labor Day weekend. The Patriots were ranked 19th coming into the contest and eventually became one of three Mid-South Conference teams to make the NAIA playoffs.
In a game dominated by the defenses with a few big plays mixed in, Belhaven came up short 21-10. The contest was 7-3 through three quarters, but a couple of game changing plays in the fourth proved to be the difference in the game. One of those plays was from Patriot quarterback Jay Bright, who hit wide receiver Willie Gibson on a 65 yard touchdown with 4:53 left to seal the game. Belhaven had pulled back to within four on a 43 yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Alex Williams to senior receiver Kylan Pollard with 5:46 to go, but the pass to Gibson negated any momentum going for the Blazers.
In Belhaven’s home opener the following week, the Blazers struggled to get on track losing to Louisiana College 24-13 at H.T. Newell Field. Belhaven missed some opportunities with good field position early in the game and then in the fourth quarter a 17 play 80 yard touchdown drive by Louisiana College, that took 8:45 off the clock, sealed the outcome.
The Blazers headed back out on the road the next week to Cumberland (TN) for their Mid-South Conference West Division opener. Belhaven suffered another heartbreaking loss in overtime 36-30. The Blazers battled back numerous times throughout the course of the game and forced overtime with 21 seconds to spare on a two yard touchdown run by Raymond Cotton. Cumberland scored on the first possession of overtime and then shutdown the Blazers offense to lock down the win.
Belhaven began to right the ship in week four of the season at home against Campbellsville (KY) exploding for a recording breaking 70-28 victory. The Blazers shattered three school records including most points scored in a game, most touchdowns in a game (10), and most extra points in a game (10). Belhaven broke the contest open in the second and third quarters with eight consecutive TD’s en route to a key Mid-South Conference West Division win.
The offense continued to fire on all cylinders the next week as the team headed north to Virginia to battle UVA-Wise where the Blazers piled up 52 points in a 52-14 win. The game also snapped a 12 game road losing streak that dated back to the 2010 season. Belhaven had 282 yards rushing and 244 yards passing leading to 526 yards of total offense.
Belhaven ran into a roadblock against Kentucky Christian University in an attempt to get to .500 on the season. The Blazers entered the game 2-3, but the offense that combined to score 122 points during the previous two games, was limited to only 10 in a 13-10 setback. The Knights held the Blazers to 196 yards and kicked a game winning 33 yard field as time expired.
Reeling a bit from the loss, Belhaven entered the annual Homecoming game against Bluefield College in a must win situation and the Blazers emerged with a resounding 66-10 win. The Blazers smashed two more school records en route to the win. The Blazers ran for 385 yards and eclipsed the previous mark of 323 yards set last year against Faulkner. The other record to fall was largest margin of victory that previously stood at 55 points in a 58-3 win at Texas College in 2010. Belhaven also rolled to a season high of 555 yards of total offense and it marked the third time this season that the team has racked up at least 500 yards in a game.
The win over Bluefield was the first in a string of four straight that continued the following week at Lindsey Wilson College. Belhaven’s defensive prowess was on display in a 35-7 Mid-South Conference West Division win. The Blazers forced seven turnovers and returned two interceptions for touchdowns that led to a crucial conference victory. Belhaven held the Blue Raiders to 176 passing yards and in the process improved the record to 4-4 overall and 3-1 in the MSC, putting the team right in the thick of a West Division title chase.
The Blazers then faced another must win game at Faulkner and the defense put its mark on the contest for the second straight week. Belhaven forced four more turnovers and it led to a 35-0 triumph, making it the first shutout win since the 2001 season. Linebacker Darius Wren set the tone by returning an interception to the Eagles five yard line, giving the offense great field position. Running back Kadero Edley powered the ball across the goal line for the game’s first score and from there the rest was history.
Belhaven returned to H.T. Newell Field the next week for a showdown with the University of Pikeville and the outcome was a 24-14 win. The victory secured the fourth winning season in program history, but it wasn’t easy. After scoring the first 24 points of the game, the Blazers had to hold off a late charge by the Bears to finalize the win.
Belhaven entered week 11 of the season with a record of 6-4 and 4-1 in the MSC. The Blazers found themselves with a shot at the West Division title if they could beat Bethel University (TN). Unfortunately, the Wildcats gritted their way to a win despite being dominated by Belhaven in almost every statistical category except the final points in a 21-17 game. The Blazers rolled up 475 yards of total offense, ran for 335 yards, and controlled the ball for over 41 minutes. However, Bethel’s defense came up with a goal line stand late in the fourth quarter to secure the win and the title.
“We did a lot of good things statistically, but our record isn’t where we wanted it to be,” said Head Coach Joe Thrasher. “At the end of the day playing in a conference championship is one thing, but winning a conference championship is our goal. To taste some success this year was good and too completely revamp and offense from what Belhaven has been known for and to change a demeanor of the defense was phenomenal for us. To start 0-3 and then win 6 of 8 to close the season was also big for us. I’m excited about the direction of Belhaven football, excited about the young men coming back, and I think our seniors from this past season helped lay a foundation of where we want to be and where ultimately as players and staff we want to be next year.”
Despite a tough end to the season, there were a number of highlights in what ended up being one of the best seasons in school history. Belhaven had 17 of its players recognized by the Mid-South Conference for their efforts on the field and in the classroom when the awards were announced by the MSC. The Blazers put seven players on the All-Conference West Division First Team, including Calvin Lewis who was named Defensive Player of the Year. Nine additional players were West Division Honorable Mention selections while three players earned Academic All MSC honors.
Lewis, a junior linebacker from Lorman, MS, was the MSC West Division Defensive Player of the Year and a selection on the All Conference First Team after registering a team high 89 tackles and 10 tackles for a loss to help anchor the Belhaven defense in 2012. Lewis also recorded two interceptions, with one returned for a touchdown, 3.5 sacks, and four fumble recoveries. Lewis was seventh in the MSC tackles per game at 8.1. Lewis along with his fellow defenders built one of the best defense’s in the MSC this season. The Blazers were second in points allowed per game (17.1) and third in total defense in the conference, allowing just 271.5 yards per game.
Joining Lewis on the first team was teammate Craig McDonald who racked up 81 stops on the year. McDonald, a senior from Collinsville, MS, was also tied for seventh in the MSC in tackles per game with an average of 8.1. McDonald became Belhaven’s all time leading tackler in the final game of the season with seven stops against Bethel. McDonald surpassed Reginald Lumpkin who had 292, ending his four year career with 296. McDonald made 8.5 tackles for a loss and picked off two passes, returning one for a touchdown.
Joshua Herring paced all Belhaven defensive linemen with 47 tackles leading to a post on the MSC West Division All-Conference First Team. Herring, a senior from Montrose, MS, had 9.5 tackles for a loss and finished the 2012 campaign with a team best four sacks. Herring also had a fumble recovery and return for a touchdown at Faulkner University.
Kicker James “Bo” Bryan earned a spot on the All MSC West First Team and was also an Honorable Mention selection. Byran, a senior from Saucier, MS, had his season cut short due to injury, but still turned in some impressive numbers in the kicking game. Bryan was the West Division’s First Team punter after averaging 43.4 yards per punt. Bryan had 11 punts land inside the 20 yard line and seven kicks traveled 50 yards or more. His performance as a placekicker earned him MSC West Division Honorable Mention Honors. Bryan was 7 for 13 in field goal attempts and 37 for 38 in extra points. Bryan led the Blazers in scoring with 58 points, ranking him 21st in the NAIA.
On offense, Belhaven had three players on the MSC West Division All Conference First Team led by running backKadero Edley. Edley, a junior from Raymond, MS, rushed for a team high 942 yards and seven touchdowns during the 2012 season. Edley averaged 5.7 yards per carry and 85.6 yards per game. Edley ranked fifth in the MSC in yards per carry.
Wide receiver Kylan Pollard found the end zone seven times on pass receptions and hauled in 36 catches, both team highs, to make the MSC First Team. Pollard, a senior from Laurel, MS averaged 59.9 yards per game and 18.3 yards per catch.
Offensive lineman Matt Hall made his presence felt anchoring the Belhaven offense at the right tackle position en route to first team honors. Hall, a junior from Russellville, Ark, helped the Blazers shatter the school record for rushing yards in a season with 2,488 this season. The previous mark was set in 1999 with 1,709. Due in part to Hall, Belhaven also set a new bench mark for rushing touchdowns with 27 in 2012. The previous school record was 19 recorded last season. Belhaven was the third best rushing team in the MSC with 226.2 yards per game and fourth in the conference in scoring with 32.9 points.
Honorable mention selections on offense included offensive lineman Alex Kibby and Fred Smith. Kibby, a senior from Moss Point, MS and Smith a senior from Decatur, MS teamed up with Hall to help break new ground when it came Belhaven’s running attack.
Running back Justin Gaines was an honorable mention selection on offense after turning in another solid season. Gaines, a senior from Montrose, MS ran for 699 yards and had six touchdowns in 2012. Gaines averaged a team high 6.3 yards per carry and picked up 63.5 yards per game. Gaines completes his two year career at Belhaven with 1,676 yards and 18 TD’s, ranking him third in school history in career yards and second in touchdowns.
Fellow running back Patrick Wilson joined Gaines as an honorable mention selection. Wilson, a junior full back from Wiggins, MS scored two touchdowns, but his specialty was teaming with the front line to open holes for the tailbacks. Wilson was one of the best in the conference this season at opening running lanes for Edley and Gaines this past season.
On defense, Belhaven had four additional players receive MSC West Division Honorable Mention honors. Jared McCarthy was one of those selections after picking up 39 tackles and 6.5 tackles for a loss in 2012. McCarthy, a senior defensive lineman from Silver Creek, MS, added 2.5 sacks, an interception, and three quarterback hurries.
Reese Unger was an honorable mention selection after his solid work on the defensive line in 2012. Unger, a senior from Tenino, WA, brought down 29 ball carriers and had six tackles for a loss. Unger was tied for second on the team in sacks with 3.5 and an interception and two fumble recoveries.
Linebacker Darius Wren had a big year during his first campaign as a Blazer. Wren, a junior from Shucktown, MS, was third on the team in total tackles with 73 and tackles for a loss with 8.5. Wren was second on the team with three interceptions, led the team with 10 pass breakups and had two fumble recoveries.
Isiah Wiley rounded out the list of honorable mention selections for Belhaven this season as both a defensive back and return specialist. Wiley, a senior cornerback and kick returner from Monroe, La., transferred to Belhaven for his senior season from Southern Cal, where he started six times as a junior. Wiley led the nation (NAIA) in punt returns with 19.4 yards per return. He was fifth in yards per kickoff return (28.6) and returned two punts for a touchdown. Defensively, Wiley tallied 23 tackles, intercepted two passes, broke up six passes, and forced two fumbles.
Three Blazers were named to the MSC West Division Academic Team for their work in the classroom. Scott Foreman, William Ashley, and Pat Wilson were those three selections. The award is reserved for student-athletes that are sophomores or higher academically with at least a 3.25 grade point average on a 4.0 scale.
The foundation for the football program has been poured and 2013 is shaping up to be an exciting year for Blazers football.