By Jeff Haws
For the AJC
Tucker came into Friday night averaging 48 points per game.
Stephenson was not impressed.
The Class AAAAA No. 4 Jaguars neutralized No. 2 Tucker’s vaunted speed and put together two long touchdown drives to secure a 13-6 win at Hallford Stadium. It was Tucker’s first loss since the 2010 state semifinal against Starr’s Mill.
This was a game played mostly on the ground between two teams that like to throw numerous backs at the defense, but two passing plays may have been the biggest ones of the game.
The first came on third-and-9 for Stephenson (5-0, 5-0 in Region 6-AAAAA), from its own 49-yard line. Leading by just a touchdown, the Jaguars were on the verge of giving the ball back after a Tucker punt.
But quarterback Justin Holman had spotted a vulnerability in the middle of the Tucker defense, and he was ready to make a play.
“They were going man all game,” Holman said. “So we just talked it over as an offense, and I told my coaches we could take advantage of it. And we did.”
They did so by Holman hitting Dexter Neal on a slant pattern that went for 33 yards and a first down at the Tucker 18-yard line.
Three plays later came another third down, and Holman was up to the task again.
This time from the 15, Holman rolled left against the Tucker pass rush, squared his shoulders and found Taylor Henry wide open in the end zone to put the Jaguars up 13-0.
It’s one more time the Jaguars noticed a weakness and exploited it for a big play.
“We thought we got them on the corner,” Stephenson coach Ron Gartrell said. “They got him outside, and we’d have somebody open. They only had one guy covering him. They jumped the short guy, so we had him there.”
The Tigers (5-1, 4-1) did get themselves back into the game, though, and had their shots.
They finally scored on an 81-yard fourth-quarter drive, culminating in a 21-yard touchdown shovel pass on the run from Juwaan Williams to Dallas Rivers, pulling them back to within a score.
After a Stephenson three-and-out, Tucker had the ball with less than 3 minutes left, near midfield.
On the first play, Rivers ran through some tackles and was fighting for more yardage at the Stephenson 35-yard line when he fumbled. The Jaguars recovered and didn’t surrender the ball again until there were 17 seconds left, leaving Tucker with too little time to score again.
In the end, it was the defense that carried Stephenson to this win, holding an explosive Tigers team to just 6 points and fewer than 175 rushing yards.
“To shut Tucker out for three and a half quarters is amazing,” Gartrell said. “We knew we had a good defense; our coaches were well prepared, and we did a good job. We had two weeks to get ready; I think that really helped us.”
T 0 0 0 6 – 6
S 0 7 6 0 – 13
S – Austin Tevin 5 run (Wisdom Nzidee kick)
S – Taylor Henry 15 pass from Justin Holman (run failed)
T – Dallas Rivers 21 pass from Juwaan Williams (kick blocked)