Lovejoy’s band showed out on homecoming night, winning the battle against their counterparts from Tucker. The tussle on the field was another story.
Just as the Wildcats’ band was bigger and louder, Tucker’s players were bigger, faster and stronger in a 36-7 win, Friday at Twelve Oaks Stadium in Lovejoy. The win kept Tucker (6-1, 4-0 in Region 4-AAAAAA), the top-ranked team in Class AAAAAA, on course for a season-ending showdown with Stephenson (4-2, 3-0 coming into Friday), for the region championship. It would be the second consecutive region title for the Tigers, the fourth in six seasons under head coach Bryan Lamar.
For the better part of two decades, Tucker has built its brand on a tough, physical style of football that has led to 10 region and two state championships since 2000. Though the win over out-manned Lovejoy (4-4, 3-2) was not perfect, the Tigers put their trademark on display, piling up more than 300 yards rushing using a stable of backs led by David Davis Jr., Gerry Vaughn and Toro Taylor.
Defensively, the Tigers held Lovejoy’s offense in check for most of the night, no easy feat considering the Wildcats feature one of the state’s top backs in senior Zion Custis, who has rushed for nearly 1,500 yards this season. The defense helped Tucker put the game away for good early in the third quarter.
Leading 22-0 at halftime, Tucker forced Lovejoy to go three-and-out to open the third quarter on a drive that netted -2 yards. After a short punt, the Tigers took over on the Wildcats’ 34 yard line and on the third play of the possession, Vaughn sprinted 27 yards for his second touchdown of the game and the Tigers’ fourth rushing score of the contest.
“It wasn’t a perfect game,” Lamar said afterward. “We have a lot of little things we have to clean up.”
But Lamar was pleased with his team’s physicality on both sides of the ball. It’s something that is built into the program in practice and summer workouts.
“We work them hard during the week. We’re very demanding of them,” Lamar said. “We run them into each other in practice and get after it. Certain days we’re physical and certain days we’re not. We try to be smart about it and know when we need to back off. But our kids have established that [physical] mentality and it’s instilled in them.”
The mentality was put into practice on the ensuing kickoff after Vaughn’s score by starting safety Trevon Flowers. Already one of the state’s top baseball prospects, Flowers – who had an interception in the first half – sprinted down the field and tripped up the Wildcats’ return man inside the 20-yard line.
“We always go hard, no matter what,” Flowers said. “No matter what the score is, that’s Tucker football.”
The mentality is also displayed by a strong, aggressive offensive line that averages 265 pounds. In a day and age of shotgun spread offenses, Tiger quarterback Tavon Ford is under center most often with two tight ends and two wing backs. The mission is to break the will of defenses.
“That’s exactly what coaches say to us,” said senior tackle Dylan Wonnum. The 6-5, 275-pounder has nearly 20 offers from an array of schools including Southern Cal, Ohio State, UGA, LSU and Auburn. “We can tell when teams are ready to quit.”
But the Wildcats wouldn’t fold. Down 29-0, Lovejoy recovered from Flowers’ play on the kickoff and drove 91 yards, for a touchdown. Jerrod Means out-jumped a Tucker defender on a fade route down the far sideline, and hauled in Khalil Arnold’s pass for a 34-yard score.
“We try to make sure we instill that fight in our team and we fought tonight,” Wildcat head coach Edgar Carson said. “My hat goes off to Tucker. They’re well-coached and they play hard. We had some chances that we didn’t capitalize on, and you can’t do that against a good team. But we’ll learn from our mistakes and hopefully this will help us when the playoffs start.”
Tucker 8 14 7 7 36
Lovejoy 0 0 7 0 7
T – Gerry Vaughn 4 run (run good)
T – Josh Vann 42 run (kick good)
T – Tavon Ford 17 run (kick good)
T – Vaughn 27 run (kick good)
L – Jerrod Means 34 pass from Khalil Arnold (kick good)
T- Darick Stephenson 51 run (kick good)