Tift starts slow, scores big to win 31-0

Tifton – A very young Tift County football team learned a little about itself Friday night. When presented with a challenge, the Blue Devils answered the bell and finished strong. The challenge came in the form of a very tough Cook High football team which took the game to the Blue Devils until Tift righted the ship and swatted the Hornets away 31-0 in convincing fashion.

“We were worried about our guys,” said Head Coach Ashley Anders when asked if Cook had put a scare into him. “We were off to a really slow start and they were doing some things offensively we had never seen them do. That was not our best first half of football, so we challenged our kids. We basically challenged their manhood and they responded.”

RJ Merriweather sprints the last five yards for a TD. Photo:: Shine Rankin Jr../SGSN

RJ Merriweather sprints the last five yards for a TD. Photo:: Shine Rankin Jr../SGSN

Behind the play of quarterback Griffin Collier and receiver R.J. Merriweather, the Devils responded by scoring four touchdowns on five possessions in a span of 11 minutes. It was an overwhelming show of strength as the Tift defense throttled the AAA Hornets while the offense scored three of its touchdowns on plays of at least 30 yards.

Cook started the game looking like an upset was not out of the question. After being shutout 28-0 last year, the Hornets held their own and then some in the first quarter racking up first downs and then getting the game’s first turnover on the first snap of the second quarter. A 30-yard completion from Lowndes transfer Laxavier Patterson to Cedarius Leonard had the Hornets at the Tift 10 yardline.

That’s when the wheels fell off for Cook. An unsportsmanlike penalty on the quarterback was called while the officials were attempting to the get a Cook lineman off the field because his helmet had come off during the previous play. The Cook coaching staff was then flagged for three unsportsmanlike penalties over the course of the next few minutes bringing up an astounding fourth down and 54 from the Cook 46! The Hornets were never the same.

After one more Tift turnover, the Devils turned it one and the barrage was on. A screen pass from Collier to Merriweather was perfectly executed for a 40-yard touchdown. That was quickly followed by a nine-play, 56-yard drive that included four first downs and ended with a Barry Bennett 1-yard score. Tift held a 14-0 lead at the half.

On Tift’s second drive of the third quarter, Collier pulled the ball on a read play and raced down the right sideline for a 33-yard touchdown. With 5:06 left in the third quarter, Collier found Merriweather again. This time it went for a 30-yard touchdown and the rout was on.

Tift defenders stopped the run in the second half, taking control of the line of scrimmage. Photo: Erin Parker/SGSN

Tift defenders stopped the run in the second half, taking control of the line of scrimmage. Photo: Erin Parker/SGSN

The Blue Devil defense got stronger as the game went on. The very versatile Cook offense used multiple formations, three different quarterbacks and a host of impressive athletes to move the ball early on, but Tift County did not allow a Hornet first down after that barrage of penalties on the Cook coaches. J.T Graden had a fumble recovery and several tackles for loss. Brenton Jones had an interception for Tift which has now turned in eight shutout quarters in-a-row with Luella High coming to town next week. Luella is 1-1 with a 39-14 loss to Shaw and last night’s 36-7 win over McIntosh.

Collier finished 12 for 15 passing for 123 yards and two touchdowns. The sophomore also ran for 37 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. Merriweather caught three passes for 84 yards and two scores. Tift won the total yards battle 226 to 138.

Receiver Quay Duggins was injured late in the game on a punt return. He is experiencing some swelling and will be evaluated with an MRI Monday.

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