Last Friday night felt the most normal of any game played this season.
The Mendenhall Tiger Pride marching band was in the stands battling against the Florence Eagles band while the football players competed on the field. Jack Jinkins called the game with his usual enthusiasm. There was a halftime show! The stands were fairly packed, and fans could feel the atmosphere of old when attending a high school football game.
It was Homecoming and the Tigers took care of business. After Re’Kyia Lott was named Homecoming Queen, the Tigers took the field and delivered the Eagles a 35-21 loss.
The Tigers were back in action after a two week layoff for quarantine due to an unexpected outbreak of COVID-19. The two week break may have been a blessing in disguise, though, as it provided the team time to get some key players healthy who had been dealing with nagging injuries. The Tigers were itching to go, and it was evident from the first drive of the game. It was one of the team’s best offensive series of the season.
DK Jenkins led the offense down the field. A balanced attack of passing and rushing spelled success for the Tigers. Jenkins showed an early rapport with a different offensive weapon in receiver Nick Williams. Jenkins found Williams on a 36 yard pass down field that put the Tigers in scoring position. The series ended in a 7 yard touchdown run from Reggie McLaurin, and the Tigers took a 6-0 lead following a blocked extra point.
Defensively the Tigers looked just as good. Florence was able to move the ball to midfield before the defense settled in and made a big fourth down stop to give their offense the ball on the 40 yard line.
The second offensive drive was not as clean and was plagued by penalties. However the result was the same. The team was facing 3rd and 18 deep in their own territory. An excellent play call led to Reggie McLaurin pulling a rabbit out of his hat, taking a screen pass 61 yards. From there Jenkins put on a dynamic passing display completing passes to three separate receivers before carrying the ball across the goal line for a rushing touchdown. Sam Smith made a difficult catch on a 2-point conversion to put the Tigers up 14-0. The Tigers were in complete control and carried a 21-7 lead into the halftime break.
The Tigers looked to keep the pressure on, and recovered an onside kick to start the second half. However, the drive stalled near the 15 yard line before Florence took over. The Eagles came out with energy after losing a teammate to what appeared to be a significant injury just before the end of the first half.
The Eagles changed their offensive approach to a pass heavy attack. A well placed slant pass was caught and taken to the end zone for an Eagle touchdown. The Tigers still led 21-14.
The offense responded and a heavy dose of Reggie McLaurin saw the Tigers make it to the red zone quickly. After some penalties and sloppy play, the Tigers faced 4th and goal from the 16 yard line. Offensive Coordinator Darius Wren dialed up the perfect play. Jenkins on a play action pass found Marcus Allen in the back of the endzone for a touchdown and a 28-14 lead.
Florence continued to fight throughout the second half and trimmed the lead to 28-21, following an interception. The offense responded and the game was put into Reggie McLaurin’s hands. He carried the ball, picking up several first downs to drain the clock. McLaurin continued to bang on Florence defenders and eventually broke loose for a 28 yard touchdown run which led to the final score of 35-21.
A Mylan Jenkins interception sealed the game for the Tigers and took away any chance for Florence to come back.
The Tigers were finally able to put together four quarters of solid football. Both sides of the ball complemented each other in route to victory. Defensive Coordinator Derrick Jenkins said, “It was good to get a win. We still made some mistakes, but we battled through adversity. There are still some small things we need to clean up in order to take the next step.”
Head Coach Chuckie Allen was pleased with the performance especially considering the circumstances leading up to the game.
Allen said, “We were basically coming off of two days of practice, but we knew this was a game we had to win.” Having missed a pair of district games due to quarantine the Tigers are in a do-or- die situation and must win one of their last two regular season games to get into the playoffs.
Allen said, “We’re playing each game like it’s our last and we have to win to get in. I know we are more than capable of getting the job done, and we’re going to keep grinding and getting better.”