Tigers improve but can’t stop Patriots

The Mendenhall Tigers and Forest Hill Patriots were both searching for their first wins of the season last Friday night. The Tigers were rebounding from a crushing defeat at the hands of their county rival Magee Trojans.

After back to back weeks of questionable effort the Tigers started the game with a new swagger.  They took the field with a seemingly new confidence and attitude that was refreshing to see, and it translated well into the game.

The Tigers started the game on defense. The defense allowed the Patriots to convert on fourth down and move the ball to the Tiger 20 yard line. A sack by Bear Lofton sparked the Tiger defense. They protected the goal line and forced a turnover.

The Tigers had been shut out the week before, and opened the game with a new look to their offense. Keshun Collier started the game taking snaps at quarterback, and it was extremely effective. The Tigers’ two headed rushing attack with Collier and Reggie McLaurin was having success, but penalties hindered the team from making real progress. Collier was electric in the new position as he made a spectacular run to convert on 4th and long to keep the Tigers’ opening drive alive.

But disaster struck on Collier’s first pass attempt. He was sacked and fumbled the ball, which was recovered by the Patriots. The Patriots capitalized on the turnover and scored on the next drive. The Patriot quarterback had plenty of time to survey the field and hit a receiver on a crossing route. The receiver broke several tackles in route to a 45 yard touchdown to give the Patriots the lead. The extra point was good and the Patriots led 7-0.

Collier remained at quarterback and quickly struck back. With the ball near midfield he found the cut back lane on a designed quarterback run and went 52 yards for a touchdown. The extra point attempt was bocked and the Tigers trailed 6-7.

But Collier’s play inspired enthusiasm and the defense shut down the Patriots on the next possession. Collier and McLaurin took turns carrying the ball with some success, but fatigue appeared to be a factor. After two negative plays, Collier worked his magic once again and converted on 3rd and 12 for a 1st down. He appeared winded after the run and was replaced by Logan McGuire,who mishandled the snap and lost yards followed by a negative run for McLaurin. Collier returned and was short of the first down marker on 3rd down. However, he received a late hit out of bounds and drew a 15 yard penalty.  The Tigers were facing 4th and 1 on their 38 yard line. A dive up the middle to McLaurin was stuffed in the backfield for a turnover.

The Patriots capitalized once again with a similar sequence. Another shallow crossing route was caught and several Tiger defenders failed to secure the tackle. The Tigers scored on a screen pass from the 3 yard line to take a 13-6 lead headed into halftime.

The second half saw the third quarterback enter the game--DK Jenkins, who started in the backfield. The Tigers were marching down the field to start the second half. On the Patriot 25 yard line cramps hit both running backs, Javirous Walker and Reggie McLaurin. The Tigers were forced into a critical 4th down situation. Jenkins dropped back to pass with trips to his left. He lofted the ball in the general direction of his receivers. The ball was tipped but fell into the hands of Walter Owens, who was forced out of bounds near the 1 yard line. Javirous Walker returned to the game and ran for a 1 yard touchdown to bring the Tigers closer. The 2-point conversion was no good and the Patriots led 13-12.

Several Tigers were locked in a battle with cramps with an entire quarter left in the game. Lack of available personnel was obviously having an effect on the strategy. The Tiger defense showed glimpses of dominance throughout the game and had success putting together multiple stops. However, midway through the 4th quarter following a Tiger punt the Patriots orchestrated another scoring drive. The extra point was no good, and the Patriots lead 19-12. With time waning in the 4th quarter everything was intensified. With less than 6 minutes left in the game DK Jenkins was picked off after another high arcing pass to Collier. The defense was solid and made plays to get their team the ball back with 3:51 left in the game.

For a moment the Tigers appeared to be on their way to closing the gap. Collier took the ball around the left end of the defense, making several defenders miss. He sped past the remaining would-be tacklers for a touchdown. However, the touchdown was called back due to a holding penalty.

Penalties were a problem for the Tigers throughout the game, and they all seemed to come in big moments. With less than a minute in the game Collier dropped back to pass and threw an interception. The final score of the game was Tigers 12, Patriots 19. It was improved effort on both sides of the ball.

Defensive Coordinator Derrick Jenkins said, “We didn’t give up and that’s a start. We had poor tackling on a couple of plays and we need to be more physical. We have to make plays and get the small details right.”

Head Coach Chuckie Allen was pleased with the effort of his team this week. He said, “We have to find our identity offensively. I was pleased with the effort. It was night and day from the last two weeks. We fought both halves, and you can’t be mad at that.”

The Tigers will face the Collins Tigers at home this Friday at 7 p.m.