Tigers edge past Eagles 20-19 as season looks up

By MARLAN JONES,

The Mendenhall Tigers have now won four games in a row to get back to .500. The Tigers overcame three turnovers to defeat the Florence Eagles 20-19 last Friday night and remain undefeated in district play.

Points were scored out of the gate as both teams traded touchdowns on their opening drives. A Reggie McLaurin touchdown made the score 6-7, and the Tigers trailed by one point.

Shortly after, the Tigers began to settle in defensively and set the tone for the first half. After stuffing the Eagles deep in their territory the Tiger offense took over midfield following the punt. Quarterback DK Jenkins continued to build on the success he enjoyed in the passing game the previous week, hitting Keshun Collier on a deep pass over the middle that moved the Tigers into the red zone. However a fumble on the next play stifled the offense’s momentum.

The Tiger defense was prepared and continued to shut down the Eagle offense. It was a defensive game through the first quarter and much of the second. Jenkins and the Mendenhall offense began to play up tempo to close the second quarter. The team has been its most effective when playing fast. This created an opportunity for Reggie McLaurin to do what he does best. McLaurin took over the final drive of the second quarter and began pounding the Eagle defense. The Tigers moved the ball to the Eagle 9 yard line with 16 seconds left in the first half. Penalties wiped out their efforts and they went into the halftime break still trailing 6-7.

The Tigers possessed the ball to start the second half and were off to a rough start, to say the least. Consecutive negative plays followed by a fumble on fourth down gave the Eagles excellent field position. The Tiger defense continued to hold and provided the spark the team needed. The Eagles were stuffed on a fourth and short conversion. Freshman linebacker Chance Barron led the point of attack and stopped the Eagles’ running back short of the first down.

Jenkins led the offense back onto the field. McLaurin returned to form and gashed the Eagles for a long run, flattening defenders in the process. He was forced out near the 15 yard line. Collier capped the drive with a touchdown on a speed sweep. McLaurin punched in the two point conversion and the Tigers took a 14-7 lead late in the third quarter.

Special teams have been an issue for the Tigers all season, kickoff coverage in particular. The Eagles returned the kickoff to the Tiger 10 yard line setting up first and goal. Two plays later the Eagles were in for a touchdown. Collier helped the Tigers maintain a narrow lead by blocking the extra point attempt.

The Eagles set up to kick the ball off to the Tigers, and caught everyone off guard. The Eagles gambled with an onside kick and it paid off. They recovered the ball and began a slow march down field burning through much of the game clock. The Tigers gave up another touchdown and trailed 19-14. Florence went for two and failed to convert. This left the door open for the Tigers to regain the lead with a touchdown. The offense was moving the ball effectively. Jenkins handed the ball to McLaurin on the Eagle 35 yard line. McLaurin was stuffed in the back field and appeared to be down by contact with the ball still in his hands when an unexplainable fumble was called by the referees. It did not appear to be a fumble by any stretch of the imagination, but the Eagles took possession of the ball.

In desperate need of a stop, the defense took the field. It was a crucial moment with time waning in the fourth quarter. With 1:43 left in the game the Tiger defense made a stand and got the ball back for their team. The offense took over with 1:34 remaining in the game and three timeouts to work with. McLaurin started the drive with a big run, and followed it up with another. McLaurin then completed a tailback pass to Walter “No No” Owens to move the ball to the Eagle 26 yard line. With 23 seconds left on the clock Collier made a 10 yard reception and got out of bounds. A miscue on the snap led to a sack. The Tigers had no timeouts left and were forced to burn a play to stop the clock. With 6 seconds remaining the Tigers needed 26 yards to get into the end zone. Jenkins took the snap, stood tall in the pocket, and showed poise as he went through his progressions. The game clock hit 0, and Jenkins slid to his left, stepped up in the pocket, and delivered a beautiful spiral that was caught by No No Owens in the end zone  for the game winning touchdown. The Tigers won 20-19.

It was strong defense and excellent late game execution that made the difference. Defensive Coordinator Derrick Jenkins said, “We just had to persist tonight, and we finally got a chance to finish a close one.”

Head Coach Chuckie Allen said, “We made a bunch of mistakes, and had to play through some bad calls. We’re still growing and getting better and continuing with the process. I’m proud of our guys for fighting. We never stopped fighting tonight, and we were able to get the win.” Allen applauded the effort and was impressed by how some of the younger guys elevated their play to meet the occasion.

With this win the Tigers have assured themselves a place in the post season. Their next game will be against Northeast Jones at home.