Tift Beats Lowndes 35-28

Valdosta – Tajhea Chambers shook off a tough start and led the Tift County Blue Devils into the playoffs with a memory-making 35-28 overtime victory at Lowndes. The Devils will now travel to North Druid Hills in East Atlanta to take on the 8-2 Region 2-AAAAAA champion Tucker Tigers.

For most of three quarters, Chambers seemed to be out of rhythm and searching for answers. Bolstered by a suddenly fearsome defense midway through the third quarter, the senior signal caller came alive with the help of junior wideout Quay Duggins.
“We just had to keep going and find a way,” said Chambers after the game. “Nobody got down. I just had to keep talking to the receivers, keep making adjustments and keep ballin’. That’s what we do.”

Trailing by what seemed to be an insurmountable three touchdowns late in the third quarter, the Tift offense of coordinator Chris Boden just seemed to jell.  Somewhere over the deep middle, Chambers found a chink in the Vikings’ armor and went to work with Malik Johnson. Back-to-back receptions for Johnson netted 44 yards and set up a 17-yard Chambers-to-Malik Henry screen pass for a touchdown with seconds left in the third quarter.

Down 28-14, the Tift defensive coordinator Ashley Anders made adjustments of its own. Some of it was just determination, according to defensive lineman and senior leader Jaelan Johnson. “We just had to get the offense some stops. We had to get out da hole!” said a fired up Johnson in the locker room. “We knew it was going to be the little things that were going to make the difference and we just had to step up.”

Coach John Reid credits his coaching staff for making one key adjustment. Lowndes running back Dezmond Copeland was gashing the Blue Devil defense all night. He finished with 200 yards and two touchdowns rushing on 30 carries, but after the score became 28-14, he had just 17 yards on his last 10 meaningful carries.

“Number one, we didn’t panic,” said a beaming Reid after the game. “We made a late adjustment and took away their power play to 33 (Copeland) and that allowed us to settle down and get back into the game.” Duggins was a big part of that settling down, and a little request of his coach may have played a part. “He came into my office this afternoon and asked for a new pair of gloves,” said Reid with a laugh. “I told him I didn’t know; those gloves are expensive, but I gave them to him. Right now, I want to get him ten pairs!”

Duggins finished the game with five catches for 83 yards and the Devils’ last three touchdowns. Trailing 28-14, Tift got a three-and-out from its defense to start the fourth quarter. Chambers took some terrific blows from a talented Lowndes defense but one of those was very low and caused him to come up limping noticeably. It did not seem to matter as he started a 7-play, 68-yard scoring drive with a 44 yard dash that went up the middle and then down the home sideline.

Tift Quarterback Tajhea Chambers scores in the 4th Quarter. Shine Rankin Jr/SGSN

“I kind of knew at that point we were going to win it,” said Chambers. “The ankle didn’t bother me too much after that.”
Still limping, Chambers then found Duggins over the middle for a short touchdown to get Tift to within a score.A big personal foul helped the Devils defense knock the Vikings offense off the field on the next possession. The Tift special teams have struggled mightily in the last few games but the return game has been solid. Henry came through again with a 33-yard punt return to the Lowndes 27. A 14-yard reception by R.J. Merriweather set up Duggins’ second TD from 13 yards out to tie the score 28-28.

Tift defenders stall Lowndes in the final possesion of OT

Tift County Linebacker Zach Abbott and CB Tristen Ross stop Lowndes’ Copeland in the backfield. Shine Rankin Jr/SGSN

The Devils defense stopped the Vikings again on the next possession but a solid punt forced Tift to fair catch the ball at its own 17. Six Chambers runs, two completions to Henry and three timeouts later, the Devils had marched 70 yards and lined up for a makeable 42-yard field goal. The attempt was well short of the crossbar, however, and forced overtime.
The Devils had the ball first in overtime and Duggins made an amazing catch on Tift’s second play for a 12-yard touchdown. He came from the left wideout spot, stutter stepped and broke for the goal post. He made a diving catch of a bullet from Chambers with half his body landing out of bounds.

On Lowndes’ last possession of the season, the Devils defense swarmed to the occasion. Copeland was buried trying to run off right tackle losing three yards. The quarterback then barely got back to the line of scrimmage under intense pressure. An incompletion set up a fourth and 13 but a swing pass to Copeland was greeted by half the Tift defense forcing Copeland to the ground and the Vikings out of the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

Tift finished with a whopping 483 yards of offense to Lowndes’ 301. Chambers was 19-30-1 passing for 208 yards and four touchdowns. He carried the ball 21 times for 142 yards. Berry Bennett ran the ball 12 times for 134 yards. Johnson had six catches for 62 yards. Henry caught five balls for 43 yards and a score. Lowndes lack of balance was obvious. The two quarterbacks completed just six of 18 attempts for 86 yards and were picked off twice by Tift junior corner back Triston Ross. Had it not been for a blocked punt returned for a touchdown early in the second quarter, the Vikings might not have made it into the overtime.

Tift will face Tucker Next Friday. Game time is yet to be announced.

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