The Mendenhall Tigers got off to a strong start but ended flat in their 41-13 loss at the hands of the Taylorsville Tartars.
The team was sidelined the previous week after the Collins football team was placed on quarantine. This may have slowed some of the momentum the team had established after a hard fought game against the Columbia Wildcats. However the unexpected bye week also gave the Tigers a chance to get healthy and overcome some nagging injuries.
Taylorsville is an excellent team coming off a State Championship win led by their Sports Illustrated All-American Candidate quarterback Ty Keyes. This was going to major test for the young Tigers from the beginning. The start of the game was tightly contested. Taylorsville got on the board first, but Chance Barron rushed for an 8 yard touchdown to end the first quarter and help the Tigers cut into the lead.
Taylorsville returned the initial kickoff to start the second quarter for a touchdown and took a 14-6 lead. Sophomore quarterback DK Jenkins led the Tigers back onto the field, and the drive was off to a good start until it ended in an interception. Taylorsville marched down the field, and, aside from drawing the occasional penalty, the Tiger defense was helpless to stop them. It was the rushing attack from the spread formation that repeatedly gashed the defense with none of the defensive ends and linebackers able to contain the edge of the line of scrimmage.
Thanks to a good kick return by Walter Owens, the Tigers started the next drive with excellent field position. The RPO and play action game was having success for the Tigers. Jenkins often made the right read, and the offense was productive. Reggie McLaurin and Barron were having success attacking the middle of the Taylorsville defense, thanks to a big push up front by the offensive line. The struggles for the offense came in the redzone, particularly near the goal line.
The Tigers were stymied at the goal line on four unsuccessful rushing attempts to end the first half. Taylorsville led 21-6 to start the second half. Mendenhall possessed the ball to start the second half but their opening offensive drive ended in a punt. Keyes came out on fire for Taylorsville and threw a 65 yard bomb to his receiver for a touchdown. The Tartars went up 28-6.
Jenkins returned to the field on a mission following the kickoff and started to run the ball with authority. McLaurin also began imposing his will with strong physical runs. The Tigers were winning the physicality battle for most of the night of offense, but drives continued to stall in the redzone.
They were placed in a similar situation to the one that ended the first half, but this time it produced different results. Down near the 3 yard line, Offensive Coordinator Darius Wren called for the heavy package. The Tigers lined up in the power I formation and Reggie McLaurin followed full back Tyrone Feazell into the endzone. Sam Smith’s extra point was good, making the score 13-28.
But the game took an abysmal turn for the Tigers after that. Defensively they continued to struggle with an inability to stop the run and generate pressure on passing downs. The problems also spread to special teams. In addition to the kickoff return touchdown surrendered earlier in the game, the Tigers gave up a fourth quarter punt return for a touchdown. The final score was 13-41 for a Tiger defeat.
Despite the score the Tigers still showed flashes of improvement at times. Offensively the reads made by Jenkins were consistent, which is a good sign for the team moving forward. They showed physicality and the ability to dominate the line of scrimmage in the first game against Columbia, but those qualities were sporadic at best against Taylorsville.
Defensive Coordinator Derrick Jenkins said, “That was one of the toughest losses I’ve had since I’ve been here.” Jenkins said defensively the team showed no sense of urgency and he questioned their effort. He believes the lack thereof led to several of the big plays given up. He said, “We stunk it up this week, and I take full responsibility for the defense. We need to get tougher, but I give all credit to Taylorsville. They executed well.”
Head Coach Chuckie Allen said, “We played a good team and they made plays. We have to come out next week and play harder. This week was bad, but we’re getting ready and by district we’ll be in the flow of things and ready to go.”
The road ahead is tough and the Tigers will travel to Jefferson Davis County to face the Jaguars this Friday.