All week long, the buzz around DeKalb County centered on the bright lights affair between Tucker and Stephenson.
However, when the clock hit triple zeros at Hallford Stadium, the illuminating glow of area dominance hovered over Tucker. The Tigers manhandled the Jaguars, posting a 31-0 rout in the finale of the regular season.
With the win, No. 4 Tucker (9-1, 7-0) clinches the Region 4-6A championship crown and earns the top seed in the Class 6A playoffs. This is the school’s 10th region title (17th overall) in the last 16 years. The Tigers will presumably host Bradwell Institute in the first round of the postseason next week at Adams Stadium.
“From day one, we work for the state championship. The region championship is a part of the process, but the No. 1 thing is to win the state championship,” said Tucker head coach Bryan Lamar. “We talk about breaking the season down into three equal pieces – the non-region, region schedule and playoffs. It’s a one-game playoff every single week. If we do that five times, we’ll be fine.”
Tucker’s stingy defense has made it a daunting task for opponents to cross the goal line in 2016. Week in and week out, the Tigers are always in prime position to make a play. They match brawn with brains by aggressively attacking the ball and reading their assignment keys. This results in many third-and-long situations, which eventually lead to punts.
The Tigers’ latest triumph marks their fourth overall shutout and second in as many weeks. For the year, they’ve given up a microscopic 9.7 points per game.
“We just fly around and make sure we don’t miss tackles,” said senior defensive end Aaron Sterling. “Our defense stays together as a unit. We stress the fundamentals and mental things. You can’t win if you’re not mentally focused.”
Tucker’s opening score came on the heels of a Stephenson miscue. Sterling recovered a fumble deep in Jaguar territory and returned the ball to the two-yard line. On the next snap, Chris Broadwater scored a touchdown for a 7-0 lead.
Stephenson showed some signs of hope in the second quarter. However, while facing a third-and-20, quarterback D’Vonn Gibbons fumbled the ball over to Tucker.
The Tigers once again translated the turnover into points. Adam Lippy drilled a 32-yard field goal to put his team up, 10-0.
Wideout Josh Vann added the final points just before halftime. Tucker’s leading receiver hauled in a 24-yard pass from Xavier Shephard. This connection set up a 17-0 score at intermission.
The second half featured touchdown runs by Samuel Bryant and Broadwater to confirm the lopsided victory.
Tucker is equally talented on offense as it is on defense. Shephard concluded his efficient night by completing nine of 13 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown. Vann, his go-to target, had five receptions for 105 yards with a score.
The catalyst for the ground game was Taurean Taylor. The speedster, who leads the team in rushing, had 15 carries for 129 yards. He now joins the 1,000-yard club with 1,042 for the year.
“We knew this was a big game and we made it happen. We had a great week of practice. There was a lot of trash talking going on, but we stayed disciplined. That was the key and we came out victorious,” said Taylor.
Despite this crushing loss, Stephenson (7-4, 5-2) still earns a spot in the playoffs. It is still undetermined as to who the Jaguars will face, but it will be a road game.
“We knew Tucker had a good squad and they beat us in all three phases. It just wasn’t our night,” said Stephenson head coach Ron Gartrell. “As far as the playoffs, we’ll meet with our kids on Sunday and focus on our gameplan. We’ll start on Monday and get ready.”