Derek Taylor: Lessons to be learned in defeat for Capital
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The odds were that this was bound to happen sooner or later.
Capital football Coach Jon Carpenter sat slumped in his chair Friday night after South Charleston roared back from a 17-0 deficit to beat the Cougars 20-17, handing them their first loss of the 2012 season in the team's first game against a team that most would consider a playoff contender.
"That was pretty bad. We kind of did get too conservative," Carpenter said after standout freshman quarterback Tyrhee Pratt threw only two passes in the second half before SC took a three-point lead with 1:07 to go.
"That's on me," a dejected Carpenter said. "If I have it to do over again..."
Carpenter stopped and looked around the coaches' office at University of Charleston Stadium.
"I won't make that mistake again."
And there it was. The postgame epiphany that seems to be an obvious statement but can't often be seen until the screams die down and a coach is alone; or at least has just one voice recorder nearby.
Carpenter, in his third season at Capital, is still learning the ins and outs of surviving big games. It's much the same for his team, which is dominated by standouts who are in their second - or even first - year of high school.
Pratt, sophomore multi-purpose back Kashaun Haley, sophomore wide receiver Tyrell Davis, sophomore defensive back Jordan Kinney, sophomore receiver Aalik Harris, freshman linebacker Logan Priddy - they give Carpenter and Capital fans enough to salivate over, as the coach and 1993 East Bank High School graduate works toward his goal of returning the Cougars' program to its early 1990s power status.
Anticipation is a wonderfully stimulating thing. It can also give a coach a migraine. How long is long enough before players should be expected to overcome even more experienced teams, if those younger players possess superior talent?
There's a sub-question to that query: Isn't it possible that South Charleston possesses not only older players, but more talented players as well?
It's a classic high school football conundrum. Luckily for fans and writers alike, we all get to see the series continue to unfold in 2013.
South Charleston Coach John Messinger noticed an in-game trend last Friday that he later said was indicative of Capital's youth.
"Jon used all his timeouts pretty quickly in the first half. I told our staff, I said, 'You watch, they'll burn through them quick in the second half, too,' " Messinger said.
Sure enough, Capital was left without a timeout in the final minute, when Pratt and company got the ball back at their own 20 with a minute left, needing to at least pick up approximately 60 yards so senior kicker Logan Garrison could attempt a would-be tying field goal.
Pratt burned 11 seconds on the first play of the drive while scrambling to pick up 1 yard. A pass to his older brother, junior Cliff Pratt, moved the ball to the Capital 36 and then the quarterback got out to the 48 with a scramble on the next play.
After a 2-yard gain by Haley, however, Capital was flagged for a false start and then another. The second penalty brought an end to the game.
Carpenter said his own decision-making mistakes and the lack of an experienced on-field leader cost the Cougars what looked at halftime to be a huge win.
It was one that would have legitimized his young team as a contender in the here and now instead of in a later calendar year.
The lessons didn't end there.
"We had too many people running up cramping up and having little nagging injuries that we couldn't get in there and finish the game," he said. "We were standing around wanting me to put somebody else in for us.
"That's got to change."
The lessons are there for Capital to learn. If the Cougars, who have markedly improved since a season-opening win at Greenbrier East, can accept their shortcomings and work to overcome them, they'll be more than just a preseason Top 5 team in 2013. They can make some serious waves as they continue to grow this season.