There were some positives and negatives for the Villa Rica High School football during its home scrimmage versus Alexander on Friday night.
But it was how the team finished that left first-year head coach Rico Zackery optimistic for what his guys are capable of once the games officially count.
Although scores weren't technically kept by coaching staffs and officials, the Wildcats did manage to defeat the visiting Cougars by a slim, 28-24 margin in a sparring match before their official 2017 season debut next Friday.
The mistakes were prevalent for VR to open the exhibition, as it worked to find a rhythm.
During their first two drives, Alexander quarterback Mason Wood managed to rip right through the Wildcat defense in short order, finding senior receivers Joel Phillips and and Michiah Randolph for a pair of early touchdowns to put them up 14-0. Meanwhile, the VR offense also suffered early miscues as starting quarterback Kelvin Stevenson was picked off on just the second play from scrimmage.
After the ominous start, the Wildcat offense started to get rolling in the second quarter.
A methodical drive dominated by the running back committee of Mecose Todd, Phillip Zachery and DuShaunte Holloway ultimately resulted in a one-yard Todd touchdown that put them in business. Todd would find the end zone again later in the quarter when he caught a 22-yard back shoulder fade from Stevenson to give the Purple and Gold their second touchdown of the evening.
After both teams rested their starters in the third quarter, the fresh VR offense really got into gear in the fourth as a 27-yard touchdown reception from Zachery and a four-yard scamper from Todd put the Wildcats up 28-24 in the contest.
After trying to apply pressure to Wood and the Cougar offense all night, the VR defense, led by seniors Paul Grace and Malik Kelley, came up big in crunch time, defending the west end zone with a last-minute goal-line stand to end the scrimmage.
Zackery gave his assessment of his team's first night of live action.
"It was a scrimmage, so we knew there were going to be some mistakes," Zackery said. "They had some mental mistakes in the beginning, but I told them beforehand that if you make mistakes, make them at full speed. They were able to get the butterflies out of their system and finished strong in the fourth. One thing we preach in our plan to win is to finish the game and that's what they did. We weren't worried about scores or anything like that, but it was a moral victory for us because that fourth quarter was huge."
Also huge was the production of Todd and Zachery, who combined for 182 yards rushing, 82 yards receiving and all four of Villa Rica's touchdown. Needless to say, that's only a glimpse for what is to potentially come for Wildcat fans at Sam McIntyre Stadium this season.
"We preached and preached and preached that we have to be able to run the football and the kids are buying into that," Zackery said. "There were still some mistakes, but we're fortunate to have backs that can pick us up and be special at times."
Also clocking in solid efforts on defense were the aforementioned Kelley and Grace, alongside fellow senior Terry Joiner, who combined for 12 tackles and a sack on the night. Once again, the head coach was pleased with the way they finished, but he also reiterated that there's a lot to still work on moving forward.
"Defensively, we have to get our hands on people, do better job in coverage and do a better job with our one-on-one matchups on the outside. We just have to be more physical," Zackery said.
It's now showtime for VR, as this Friday it welcomes rival Central to town for the official 2017 season opener. Getting off to a strong start will be a point of emphasis Zackery will get through to his players this week as he hopes the positives and negatives from the scrimmage will only make them an even better team.
"I just hope that we're a lot better next week," Zackery said. "A lot of people say you improve the most between your first and your second game, and even though this was a scrimmage, it was our first live outing. So hopefully we show improvement next week."