Head coach Terrance Blankenship figured JHHS would need to score 30 points against 10th seeded Mangham to advance to the quarterfinals of the Class AA playoffs. As it turned out, the 28 points they put up was good enough, plenty good.
That is because the Tigers defense stepped up to turn in one of their best performances of the year to hold the Dragons offense, that was averaging close to 36 points a game, to half of their norm. Actually the suddenly impressive, J-H defense didn’t allow but 12 points, which tied for the least amount of points the Dragon offense had scored all year. Mangham got their final score on a kickoff return.
“I felt that if we got 30 points that would be good enough,” said the soaked Blankenship, who got doused with a “Gatorade Shower” by his jubilant players after the game. ”I knew if the “D” played the way they have been playing over the last several games that we could hold Mangham to less than what they had been scoring but they took it to another level tonight.”
Did they ever! The stats prove it out. Mangham entered the game averaging 347 total yards per contest. This was impressively compiled against a schedule that featured three teams that are still undefeated on the year in Class 3A #1 Sterlington, Division IV’s top ranked team, Ouachita Christian and Class AA General Trass, ranked #4 in Class AA. Defending Class A champion Oak Grove, who is primed for a repeat this year, is also on the list. On Friday the Dragons mustered just 214 yards, over a full football field length below their average.
As more proof to the tremendous job done by the Tigers defense, Mangham had two players who had eclipsed 2000 yards in total offense during the regular season but neither came close to their average. As a team the Tiger defense held the high octane Mangham offense to only 8 first downs all game. It wasn’t just that the Tigers were being stingy with the yards they allowed, when they needed a big play the most, they rose to an even higher level. Seventeen times the Dragons tried to make a third down conversion. Only twice did they succeed. Six times they went for it on fourth down, making it only twice and that was on the same drive. Most importantly when the “game changing” play was needed the defense came through.
To set the scenario, Mangham had scored their second and final offensive touchdown as time expired in the first half to narrow the Tigers lead to 13-12. Jonesboro-Hodge had scored twice on Tydre Malone touchdown passes of 18 and 20 yards to Devontae Mozee and Justin Calahan.
The second Tiger score had come with just 36 seconds left in the half but after Mangham got the ball at midfield it took them just 18 seconds to score on Williams second TD run of the second quarter to draw the Dragons to within one. They left the field at the half riding a wave of momentum and was going to receive the second half kickoff as well. It made for a very dangerous situation.
A short kick gave Mangham possession at midfield. Immediately the Tiger defense responded by making a tackle for a seven yard loss. Knowing the importance of making their field position count the Dragons managed to convert a fourth down attempt, then another. Their intensity level was at a peak as they methodically moved to the Tiger 20 yard line needing only four yards for another first down and having two attempts to make it. They never did.
“Mangham ended the first half with all the momentum. I felt strongly that we needed to make a stop on their first possession of the second half,” reflected Blankenship. “The last thing you want is a team as explosive as they are to get on a roll so to hold them there was big.”
It was big but it wasn’t nothing compared to what came next. Five plays later the Mangham offense was back on the field after forcing a punt that gave them the ball at their own 22 yard line. Two running plays netted just two yards. Mangham then tried to catch the Tigers napping by trying a rare downfield pass. It was completed too, only it was Tiger defensive back Justin Calahan who gathered the ball in and raced 40 yards down the sideline to paydirt.
“That was huge for us,” said Blankenship. “Mangham was beginning to show signs of getting untracked and instead of trying to protect a one point lead, just like that we were up by eight.”
Not for long though. Actually for only 17 seconds. Jalen Williams, the Mangham tailback who entered the contest with 26 TD’s on the year and had already scored twice in the game, snared the ensuing kickoff at his own 25 yard line and outran the Tiger coverage team to narrow the margin to just two. Faced with the prospect of Mangham tying the game the defense stepped up once again when a pass to the back of the end zone was deflected away by Devontae Mozee preserving the lead.
“That was a great recognition on his part,” recalled Blankenship. “It was a big play as instead of now being tied we still had the lead.”
Mozee followed that up with a great kickoff return of his own. The Mangham kick coverage team gave a little help as well with a “horse collar” that gave JH the ball on the Mangham 24-yard line. Methodically the Tigers drove the ball toward the end zone that culminated in a score when Malone lunged over from the one on a third-down play to, once again, put J-H up by eight.
It was not by design, but through tremendous improvisation the Tigers then made it a “two score” game. After mishandling the snap on the extra point kick attempt, Calahan rose, wheeled to his right and sprinted toward the endzone. Finding his path block, the heady senior then turned passer and found Mozee streaking across the back of the endzone for a two-point conversion.
From there it was the defense once again stepping to the forefront. Three straight Mangham drives ended with failed fourth down attempts that secured the hard-fought victory and propelled the Tigers into the quarterfinal’s where they will travel to play #15 Franklin, who upset #2 Loreauville.
“We needed a good defensive effort tonight if we were going to advance,” said Blankenship, who will lead his team into the quarterfinals for the second time in his nine year tenure and first ever as a Class AA school. “We got a great one.”
By virtue of the victory the Tigers gained title to the K104 Game of the Week trophy and moved to 10-2 on the season, becoming the first JHHS team since 1997 to win ten games in a season.
For video highlights of the game click here: https://www.facebook.com/427411564447229/posts
|Rushes / Yards||32-78||40-176|
|Penalties / Yards||3-20||8-74|
|3rd down conversion||4/14||2/17|
|4th down conversion||2/11|
2nd quarter: JHHS – Mozee 18 yd pass from Malone (Kick NG)
2nd quarter: MHS – Williams 4 yd run (Kick NG)
2nd quarter: JHHS – Calahan 20 yd pass from Malone (:Leonard kick)
2nd quarter: MHS – Williams 3 yd run (Kick NG)
3rd quarter: JHHS – Calahan 40 yd INT return (Leonard Kick)
3rd quarter: MHS – Williams 75 yd kickoff return (pass NG)
4th quarter: JHHS – Malone 1 yd run (Calahan pass to Mozzee)
JHHS Individual Offensive Stats:
Passing: Malone 13-24-142-2TD’s, 1 INT
Rushing: Thompson 15-71, Malone 16-6-1TD, Waters 1-1
Receiving: Lewis 4-42, Thompson 4-38, Calahan 2-23-1TD, Mozee 1-18-1TD, Leonard 1-16, Andrews 1-5
JHHS Individual Defensive Stats:
Total Tackles: Atkins 17, Lewis 12, Smith 10, Andrews 8, Drayton 6, Strickland 5, Leonard 4, Waters 4
Solo Tackles: Atkins 15, Lewis 12, Drayton 6, Andrews 5, Mozee 3, Waters 3, Gray 3
Tackles for loss: Atkins 2, Lewis 1
Interceptions: Calahan 1 (TD)
Photos courtesy of Jason Strickland:
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