Tigers season comes to an endBy MARLAN JONES,
The Mendenhall Tigers came into last Friday’s competition riding a wave of accomplishments after an 8-2 regular season and District Championship. The Tigers played host to a familiar opponent in Cj Bolar and the Purvis Tornados. The Tigers defeated Purvis earlier this season 38-24.
Purvis kicked off to the Tigers to open the first round of the playoffs. The Tigers focus was on their ground attack, and Jordan Willis rushed for 40 yards on three carries to move the offense near the goal line. Zadarius Duckworth capped the drive with a rushing touchdown from the four yard line for the first points of the game. Josh Freels converted the extra point and the Tigers took a 7-0 lead. After a well-executed opening drive the Tigers defensive looked to build on their momentum.
An Eli Drummond sack forced the Tornados into a fourth and long near the Tigers 45 yard. Purvis decided to try their luck and attempted to pick up the yardage. A lofty pass on the fourth down attempt was intercepted by Tigers safety Will Jones and returned 73 yards. The offense took over on the Tornados 22 yard line. Staying on the ground, Willis finished a three play drive with his first rushing touchdown of the night.
The Tigers took a 14-0 lead to end the first quarter. The Tornados possessed the ball to start the second quarter and took a simpler approach. The Tornados quarterback was under heavy pressure, and had little time to throw for most of the first quarter. Purvis turned to their running back John Bolton who delivered.
Bolton found success and plenty of space to run through the middle of the Tigers defense. The Tigers seemed to have no answer for the rushing attack and the Tornados were able to drive down the field. Bolton carried the ball across the goal line and the extra point attempt was good.
Quarterback Christian Allen led the offense back onto the field following the kickoff. The offense was moving the ball well to start the drive, until an errant snap stifled their momentum. The bad snap cost the Tigers 15 yards, plus additional penalty yardage was tacked on for a block in the back. In an obvious passing situation Allen dropped back for his first pass attempt and was sacked for a big loss. An incomplete pass and another sack led to a Tigers punt. Purvis took over on their 45 yard line and Tigers defensive tackle Buster Hollins was able to get into the backfield and record his second tackle for a loss on first down.
Hollins set the tone and the defense held. The Tornados were going for broke and attempted a fake punt pass that was broken up by Dee Newsome. The Tigers offense took over on the 50 yard line. It took the offense two plays to score. Zadarious Duckworth came to play, and he was able to score his second touchdown of the night after breaking for a 47 yard run. Tiger lineman Matt Mabry did an excellent job of kicking out the outside linebacker and giving Duckworth room to run. The Tigers took a 21-7 lead.
Purvis looked to give the Tigers more of the same, which was a steady dose of John Bolton. Tigers’ defensive tackle Jarious Newsome had an answer when he met Bolton in the hole and knocked the ball free. The fumble was recovered by linebacker Jarquez Dixon. The great defensive play was followed by misfortune in the form of an Allen interception. The Tornados took over deep in their own territory and moved the ball close to midfield. Bolar had been quiet for much of the night until he found his opening. He had free release from the slot position and ran a streak downfield. There was no defenders close enough to contest the pass. Bolar made the catch and ran for a 56 yard touchdown. The Tornadoes converted their two point conversion. Arguably the best linebacker on the Tigers team, Tavaris Grace, was sidelined for that defensive series being evaluated for injury. The Tigers attempted to score before halftime, but were unsuccessful and settled for a 21-15 lead.
Grace was back in pads to start the second half, and the Tigers kicked off to the Tornadoes. The Tornadoes started their drive on their 28 yard line, and went back to their running game. Bolton was spelled by Brian Bennett who briefly took over the game and ignited his team. Bennett was daring the Tigers to stop him, and he rushed up the middle on three consecutive plays for a touchdown. The Tornadoes went for two and were stopped leaving the game tied at 21-21.
The Tigers offense took over and leaned on Willis. The rushing attack was extremely effective and Jordan Willis plowed over a Tornadoes defender in route to an 18 yard touchdown. Willis number was called again, and he delivered on the two point conversion to give the Tigers a 29-21 lead to end the third quarter. Purvis was able to open the fourth quarter with a scoring drive, but a failed two point conversion saw the Tigers cling to a two point lead 29-27.
The following kickoff was recovered by the Tigers who started their drive in excellent field position. Keshun Collier brought fans to their feet with a big gain. Collier hurdled a defender and fought for extra yards. Collier’s carry brought the Tigers to the 10 yard line. A bad snap cost the Tigers yards once again and Christian Allen was forced out of bounds. A change at center led to a consecutive snap that went over Allen’s head for a loss of yards. The drive ended with an incomplete pass and the Tornadoes took over on their four yard line. The Tigers defense was aggressive, and was looking for a safety. On a pivotal third down play the Tornadoes quarterback was able to get a pass off over the middle of the field. Newsome who was doing a good job covering CJ Bolar for most of the night made a good break on the pass.
Bolar was able to make a difficult catch that gave the Tornadoes a new set of downs near their 40 yard line. The Tigers front 7 turned up the pressure and repeatedly sacked the quarterback. Purvis facing fourth and long their quarterback dropped back to pass and was hurried into throwing an errant pass. Will Jones was in perfect position to make a play on the football and grabbed his second interception of the game. The Tigers offense took the field and then turned to Jordan Willis who would not be denied. Willis repeatedly ran through multiple defenders and broke tackles until he found the end zone for a third time. The extra point was no good and the Tigers led 35-27.
With little time remaining the Tornadoes took over in need of 8 points. They were able to move the ball to the Tigers goal line with 59 seconds remaining in the game. Defensively the Tigers continued to struggle against the run, but showed some fortitude with the game on the line. Purvis threw an incomplete pass on first and goal. Jordan Willis was able to stop John Bolton in the backfield on second and goal. Another unsuccessful rush attempt on third down by Purvis saw the clock continue to run and the Tornadoes scrambling to the line to run a play. Coach Chuckie Allen called a time out to allow his defense to get set, but it also allowed the Tornadoes time to compose themselves and draw up a final play. The ball was spotted on the Tigers 10 yard line with 1 second on the clock. The Tornadoes quarterback took the snap and rolled to his right. He threw a 50/50 ball towards the back pylon and his receiver came down with the football for a touchdown. Purvis executed a quarterback sneak for the two point conversion and tied the game at 35-35 forcing overtime.
Each team gets an opportunity to score in overtime and the ball is spotted at the 10 yard line. The Tigers possessed the ball first. Willis, who was already having a career game, carried the ball to the three yard line. On third and goal he would not be denied as he ran over a tackler and fell across the goal line for a touchdown. The Tigers elected to go for two and everyone knew where the ball was going. Willis had not been stopped by one defender for the entire night, but on the two point conversion the defensive end rushed into the backfield unblocked. He was able to wrap up Willis before he could gain any momentum and tackle him for a loss.
The two point conversion was no good and the Tigers led by a touchdown 41-35. The Tigers season rested solely on their defense as Purvis took the field in search of the end zone. The Tigers held them to minimal gain on first and second down. A trick play on third and 8 was broken up by Jordan Willis. The Tigers were now in the same situation that led to overtime. Fourth and goal, the defense needed a final stop to win the game. Bolar was matched up 1 on 1 on the outside. Bolar was able to gain inside leverage and catch a quick slant for the game tying touchdown. The Tornadoes extra point attempt was good and the Tigers season came to an end.
Emotions ran high for coaches, players, and fans who all had expectations that extended beyond a first round playoff exit. Coach Allen addressed his team and congratulated them on a good season.
Allen said, “We just didn’t get breaks tonight. Either way I am proud of these guys we had a great season and we will get better.”