Tift falls in Heartbreaker, 31-29

Clarkston – Tift County’s 2014 football season came to a close Friday night with a heartbreaking 31-29 loss to a very talented Tucker Tigers football team in the first round of the AAAAAA playoffs. A botched extra point may have been the difference, but the Blue Devils had plenty of opportunities to win the game. “We are blessed and lucky to win this game,” said third-year Tucker Coach Bryan Lamar after the game. “We did a good job of blocking and tackling and making plays, but they had a great scheme and a great game plan. It was a great game.”

Tift Head Coach John Reid knew it was a great game, but was extremely disappointed to see the season end.

Josh Ajero intercepts on the Tucker 5-yard line. He returned the pick 25 yards. Jessica Peters/SGSN

Josh Ajero intercepts on the Tucker 5-yard line. He returned the pick 25 yards. Jessica Peters/SGSN

“My hats off to them. My hats off to our defense!” Reid exclaimed. “They scrapped, and scrapped and scrapped. We played good on defense and offense, but they played good, too.”

The game was a barnburner from start to finish with Tift outgaining the Tigers 379-333. Quarterback Tajhea Chambers who led Region 1-AAAAAA in total offense, had 204 yards passing and 71 yards rushing. Berry Bennett added 67 yards on 11 carries, but it wouldn’t be enough.

Wing back Delvin Weems and fullback Elijah Sullivan combined for 225 yards rushing for Tucker. The Tigers wing-T chewed up the clock in the second half and seemed to make the difference.

The Devils took a 23-21 lead late in the third quarter following a sensational Josh Ajero interception. The Tucker defense had wrestled field position away from Tift but Ajero’s interception at the five and subsequent 25-yard return turned the tide. Tift went 71 yards in five plays for the score. A 43-yard screen to Malik Johnson and a 23-yard run by Chambers set up Bennett’s 1-yard score.

The PAT was no good, however, as the snap was into the body of the holder. That was the last Tift would see of the ball for over ten minutes.

Trailing 23-21, Tucker ran the ball 13 consecutive times on a 55-yard scoring drive that took 6 minutes off the clock and left Tift trailing 28-23. A Tift linebacker then tried to field a pooch kickoff but fumbled giving the ball back to the Tigers. Tucker then put together an eight-play drive for a field goal and a 31-23 lead. The two drives took over ten minutes off the clock.

“We really got rolling with our running game in the third quarter and that might have been the difference in the game,” said Lamar.

Malik Henry was Tift’s best player most of the night with shocking plays on both kick returns and pass receptions. Down eight with time running down, Henry caught a simple ball over the middle and outraced seemingly faster players for a 54-yard score to pull Tift back to within two points with six minutes to play. The Devils went for two but the pass was just off the fingertips of the receiver leaving thescore 31-29.

Tift used great defense and three timeouts to force a punt with less than two minutes to play, but a perfectly executed fake punt gained33 yards and ended the game. Tift opened the game scoring first on a four-yard Chambers run. Bennett had a 30-yard run on that initial scoring drive. A 49-yard pass from Garrett Rigby to freshman Josh Vann tied the score on the next Tiger possession. Yet another Quay Duggins touchdown gave Tift the lead 14-7. Duggins, who now has touchdowns on half his total catches, simply ran under a Chambers’ bomb right down the middle for a 14-7 lead.

The Tigers answered with a 7-play, 64 yard drive to even things with a 1-yard run by Sullivan. After the teams traded fumbles, Tucker took the lead when Weems broke open a buck sweep for a 60-yard touchdown run with 2:52 left before halftime.

Tift was not down, however. A nine-play, 64-yard drive allowed Frankie Mejia to kick a 23-yard field goal with no time on the clock and the two teams went to halftime with Tucker on top 21-17.

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