Arnold linebacker Nick Caldwell left the game against Bay High on Sept. 27 with a season-ending injury. It was a huge loss for the Marlins and Arnold coach Norris Vaughan wasn’t shy about saying it.
Still, his team carried on and outscored both Bay High and Rutherford by a combined total of 87-40. Then Choctawhatchee paid Arnold a visit on Friday night Oct. 11 and the Indians left with a 35-9 victory over the Marlins (3-4) on Arnold’s Homecoming night.
“Somebody else has got to step up,” Vaughan said after the loss on Friday when asked about missing Caldwell.
But it’s not quite that simple. Arnold is a young team with at least six sophomores in starting roles. Replacing a senior like Caldwell will take time.
“He’s our team leader and he’s probably the best linebacker in Bay County, so we can’t replace him. … It’s like (running back Alex) Noble,” Vaughan said on Wednesday. “(If) we lose Noble this year, we can’t replace Noble this year. We’ve got some other good guys, but he’s special.”
Noble, also a senior, carried the ball 15 times for 90 yards and recovered a punt on special teams against Choctaw. Against Bay High and Rutherford, Noble touched the ball 45 times on offense, gained 548 total yards, and scored seven touchdowns.
That’s the kind of impact Caldwell might have on the Arnold defense if he was still able to go, but his absence was just one of many reasons the Marlins struggled vs. the Indians.
They were called for two pre-snap penalties when the offense had the ball inches from the end zone. As a result, they settled for a field goal, and that was only the beginning.
“We had more penalties (against Choctaw) than we had in the previous three games put together,” Vaughan said. “I think that was just stress. Stress and focus.”
Focus is exactly what the Marlins will need when Pensacola (0-7) visits on Monday at 5:30 p.m. at Gavlak Stadium. The Tigers might not have won a game yet, but Vaughan said they have plenty of playmakers capable of handing his team another loss if the Marlins aren’t careful.
Pensacola wide receiver Ladarius Powell stands out on offense as a player the Marlins will have to account for on almost every play. The Tigers' defense presents a little bit of a different challenge.
“Rutherford blitzed a good bit and West Florida, but this team probably blitzes more than anyone we’ve played,” Vaughan said.
Those blitzes helped West Florida defeat Arnold 55-14 on Sept. 13. Arnold’s not the same team it was back then, though, and Vaughan said he is confident his team won’t be undone on Friday night by the same mistakes it made last week.
“I think that the biggest issue was that we had a lack of focus,” Vaughan said. “It was Homecoming and a lot of distractions all week. … The other issue is we had just won two in a row and I think the competition was better.”