Finally! Sweet taste of success for Tigers

By MARLAN JONES,

Tiger Nation rejoiced last Friday night after the team captured their first victory of the season with a 4 point win over Jefferson County.

The final score was 26-22 in a game that came down to the wire for the Mendenhall Tigers, who have shown progress from week to week on each side of the ball.

The breakthrough victory took fans on a roller coaster ride of emotions. However, the Tigers took a big step forward in finding their identity as a football team.

Mendenhall possessed the ball to start the game and were firing on all cylinders. Momentum from the previous week carried over for the offense. Reggie McLaurin started this game in the same dominating fashion he displayed in the second half of the Tigers’ 2 point loss to Collins. Jefferson County had no answer, for several chunk plays for the Tigers and a scoring drive capped by a 15 yard DK Jenkins touchdown run. The extra point attempt was good and the Tigers took a 7-0 lead.

Defensively the Tigers took some time to settle into the game. Jefferson County was having success with their rushing attack, but the Tiger defense stiffened on their 30 yard line and drove Jefferson backwards to force a punt. 

It was much of the same for the Tigers on offense. Jefferson County received a heavy dose of McLaurin which proved too much for them to handle. McLaurin became a magnet for Jefferson defenders, which set up an easy read option play for DK Jenkins to cross the goal line for his second touchdown. The extra point was no good and the Tigers led 13-0.

It was the best the Tigers have looked in consecutive offensive series all season. The game was due for a shift, however, and a big return on the following kickoff by Jefferson put them in excellent position to score.

Defensively the Tigers had a short field to defend that allowed little room for mistakes. A misread on defense by the Tigers and a great play fake by Jefferson led to a touchdown on a quarterback bootleg. Jefferson County was successful on the 2-point conversion and cut into the lead 8-13.

Offensively the Tigers did not have to deviate much from their game plan. Another well executed drive ended in a touchdown--this time scored by Keshun Collier on a jet sweep. The extra point was good, and the Tigers led 20-8. Jefferson County responded as the first half came to a close. They managed to work the ball to the 10 yard line in the final minute of the first half.

On a cruicial 4th and goal Jefferson called a reverse. The Tigers were one missed tackle away from a goal line stop, but instead Jefferson scored again to trim the lead. The 2-point conversion attempt was good and the Tigers led 20-16 at half time.

The Tigers started the second half on defense and set the tone early, forcing a three and out, but Jefferson repaid the favor three plays later. Both defenses were playing well throughout the third quarter, but it was Jefferson that finally gained some momentum.

They began giving the Tigers a dose of their own medicine and repeatedly ran their own bruising running back. The Jefferson ball carrier slammed into Tiger defenders for 5 yards a carry until finally breaking free for a 25 yard touchdown run to give his team the lead. Jefferson’s 2-point conversion was no good and the score was 22-20.

The Tigers desperately needed to respond, but their next offensive series ended with a failed fourth down conversion, and Jefferson took over. Pressure was mounting but the Tiger defense rose to the occasion. The Tigers ramped up the pressure and began consistently stopping the run. The defense held and forced a game changing change of possession near midfield.

Collier entered the game on offense at the quarterback position, and the Tigers went with a wildcat approach. It had been successful for them the previous two weeks. Collier put the team on his back and sparked what would be the game winning drive. The Tigers went with an up tempo approach and caught Jefferson off guard. Collier and McLaurin kept Jefferson off balance with a good mix of inside and outside running plays.

It was Collier who scored the game winning touchdown. He would not be denied as he took the snap and charged through the heart of the Jefferson County defense. He fought, twisted, turned, and clawed his way through defenders for a score. Collier showed tremendous effort and broke several tackles to give his team a 26-22 lead. The Tigers’ 2-point conversion attempt was no good.

With 4:58 seconds left in the game the Tigers held a 4 point lead. Jefferson worked the ball near midfield. The visitor side erupted with chants of “defense” as Jefferson County faced a game deciding 4th and short play near mid field. Jefferson barely converted for 4 new downs, but they lost their workhorse running back in the process.

With the ball on the Tiger 20 yard line and 59 seconds left to play, Jefferson took a shot down field, but the receiver failed to bring in the pass. On the next play Jefferson called a reverse that saw the runner facing one defender. However, Collier came from the opposite side of the field like a missile to wipe out the runner and save a touchdown. With the final 20 seconds on the clock and no timeouts remaining, Jefferson took another desperation throw at the end zone. The ball hit the Jefferson receiver in his hands as he leaped into the air, but he failed to secure the catch. The pass fell incomplete, and the Tigers won the game of the season.

Head Coach Chuckie Allen said, “The process is still growing. We still made some young mistakes, but this win will help us with our confidence, and now we start district.” Allen said the team is continuing to progress and get better, and that is all he could ask for as they begin the second half of the season. He said, “Our goal was to get these young guys game ready for district play, and we’ve been able to do that.”

The Tigers have a bye week this upcoming Friday. Their next game will be against Newton County on October 4.

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