It had been six weeks since a team stayed within one score of Tucker, a team on an 11-game winning streak. And what better team to challenge the Tigers in the Class AAAAAA quarterfinals than Mays, a team that also had won 11 straight.
In the end Tucker’s rugged ground game and opportunistic defense was just good enough to hold off the gutsy Raiders, 28-21, and move into the state semifinals against a familiar foe – Northside-Warner Robins.
Throughout the season, Mays (11-2), the Region 5 champion, had developed a reputation for gaining strength as the game wore on, a trait the Raiders displayed last week when they erased a 22-8 deficit to defeat Lee County, 35-22. The scenario looked as if it might play out again Friday night at Lakewood Stadium, as Tucker (12-1) built a 21-7 lead by halftime.
Already leading 7-0 heading into the second quarter, Tucker’s ground game flexed its muscles. The Tigers took possession on their 37-yard line and needed just nine plays, all but two of them runs, to march 63 yards in a little more than five minutes. Chris Broadwater banged in from one-yard out to push Tucker’s lead to 14-0, after Adam Lippy’s successful point after kick.
Mays took over and gained a first down on a pass interference call but two dropped passes thwarted the possession. A 49-yard punt by Mays pinned the Tigers on their four yard line, and the Raider defense seized the opportunity right away, as linebacker Antonio Grier Jr. sacked Tucker quarterback Xavier Shephard Jr. in the end zone. Shephard fumbled and Mays recovered for a touchdown to trim the lead to 14-7, after Chloe Robinson’s point after kick.
But Tucker’s offense went right back to work. On the Tigers’ ensuing possession they drove 69 yards in just seven plays, all of them runs. Broadwater barreled in from the two-yard line to give Tucker its two-touchdown lead again after two quarters.
The Raiders took the second-half kickoff and began their customary comeback. Senior quarterback B.J. Phillips led the way with a 13-yard run while completing four-of-four passes on a 68-yard drive. His final toss on the march was a short crossing route to Norman Price, who outran the Tucker secondary into the end zone to narrow the gap to 21-14.
On its only possession of the third quarter, Tucker’s drive stalled at midfield and the Tigers punted the ball back to Mays. The Raiders took over on their 14-yard line and once again, Phillips went to work, driving his team to the Tigers’ 16-yard line. But senior linebacker Brian Strozier Jr. busted through for a sack on third-and-five, and Mays failed to convert on fourth-and-14 from the Tucker 25-yard line at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Tucker scored was proved to be the winning touchdown on its next possession. Once again, the Tigers stayed on the ground. Broadwater took the first carry of the drive 44 yards to the Mays 31-yard line. Eight plays later, he scored from the three to give Tucker a 28-14 lead.
But once again, Mays responded driving 62-yards in one-minute. Armis Stokes sprinted in from three-yards out to cut the Tucker lead to 28-21 with six minutes left in regulation time.
The Raider defense gave the ball right back to its offense as two plays into Tucker’s next possession, junior linebacker Tyrone Mixon grabbed a Shephard’s pass that had been deflected into the air by a Mays defensive lineman, giving the Raiders possession at the Tucker 31-yard line. But on the first play, the Raiders fumbled a handoff attempting a double-reverse, and Tucker recovered.
The Tigers’ running game moved that ball to the Mays 29-yard line, eating up clock before turning the ball over on downs with 10 seconds remaining. Phillips completed a deep pass to junior Nick Hunter, but he was tackled at the Tucker 30-yard line as time expired.
“We blew a few opportunities to get off the field, and lost contain on their quarterback a couple of times,” Tucker head coach Bryan Lamar said. “Those are things we have to get cleaned up. But we made some plays when we had to, and in the playoffs it’s about surviving and advancing. Now it’s time for us to get back to work next week and get ready for Northside-Warner Robins.”
Mays head coach Niketa Battle said he was proud of the resiliency his team showed.
“We weren’t even supposed to be here. We had been predicted to go 4-6, but we ended up winning 11 games in a row. I’m proud of how our guys fought all year long, and the way our seniors stepped up.” Battle said. “Tucker is a great team and coach Lamar and those guys have been doing it for years. For us, we just have to learn from this, and get back to work after Jan. 1.”