Defending Region 5-AAAAAA champion Mays arrived late to its first league contest of the season – literally and figuratively.
But the Raiders’ game arrived just in time to deliver a decisive 32-20 win over region and south Fulton County rival Langston Hughes, in a game that matched the No. 5 team in the AJC Class AAAAAA Top 10, Mays, against the No. 6 team, Hughes.
“It was a hard fought game, highly competitive,” Hughes head coach Willie Cannon said. Both teams were assessed two personal foul penalties during the proceedings. “But at the end of the game we got in line, shook each other’s hands and hugged each other.
The Raiders were picked up late at their school by the team buses, and arrived at Hughes just minutes before kickoff. In fact, Mays’ players had to get dressed on the bus, according to head coach Maliki Battle.
“That threw us off a little bit in the first half,” Battle said. “But we were able to settle down at halftime, and we came out and were able to execute a little better.”
The game turned when the Raiders scored 20 unanswered points after Hughes took a 14-12 lead midway through the third quarter. The Panthers took advantage of Mays’ poor start to the third quarter when the Raiders started on their own 7-yard line after a poor return and penalty. Mays went three-and-out and a poor punt gave Hughes the ball at the Raiders’ 38 yard line. Six plays into the drive, with the Mays defense keying on lightning-quick senior Christian Royster, his backfield mate T.J. Portress bulled into the end zone from 5 yards out.
That’s when Mays got going. Senior Ihbbin Tophia took the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown to reclaim the lead for the Raiders, 18-14 after the two-point conversion pass failed.
The Raider defense got a stop and gave the ball back to the offense at the Mays 30. The passing of junior Jahquez Evans, running of sophomore Tyree Nelson and penalties on Hughes resulted in a 70-yard drive that Nelson capped off with a 2-yard touchdown run to push the Mays lead to 25-14, after Chloe Robinson’s successful point after kick.
Mays capitalized Hughes mistakes to put the game away. Early in the fourth quarter, Hughes lost 30 yards due to penalties and a bad shotgun snap. The Panthers were forced to punt from their end zone on fourth-and-39, and senior Antonio Greer Jr. – the reigning region Defensive Player of the Year – blocked the kick and recovered it in the end zone to increase the margin to 32-14.
“We just made too many mistakes and they were able to capitalize on some things,” Cannon said. “But I told them this is a region game, but it’s just one game. I saw some good things, so we just have to build on those.”
Meanwhile, the win was a confidence builder for Evans and Nelson, both first-year starters.
“[Evans] is still learning, still getting comfortable. By the end of the season, he’s going to be a really good quarterback,” Battle said. “[Nelson] is our premiere back. We were waiting on that, and he showed it tonight.”
Mays 6 6 13 7 32
Langston Hughes 7 0 7 6 20
LH – Christian Royster 35 pass from Jacquez Milam (Jordy Andrade kick)
M – Tyree Nelson 4 run (kick failed)
M – Amir Abdur Rahman 56 pass from Jahquez Evans (pass failed)
LH – TJ Portress 4 run (Andrade kick)
M – Ihbbin Tophia 85 kickoff return (pass failed)
M – Nelson 2 run (Chloe Robinson kick)
M – Antonio Greer Jr recovers block punt in end zone (Robinson kick)
LH – Tyrea Swanson 7 run (run failed)