Though the final score will show the Archer Tigers defeated the Roswell Hornets 37-26 on Friday at Ray Manus Stadium, it won’t tell the story of how the Tigers barely avoided an Atlanta Falcons-type collapse.
Tigers senior defensive back Taiyon Palmer returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown with 1:44 remaining to bring the score to its final margin and end the Hornets’ potential game-winning drive. Palmer’s score also ended a Hornets 19-0 second-half run after Archer led 31-7 at halftime.
The Tigers — ranked No. 3 in AAAAAAA — head into their bye week 5-0 for the first time since 2013 and will return on Oct. 7 to play their Region 8 opener at Newton.
Meanwhile, the unranked Hornets drop to 1-3 and continue their slide after back-to-back AAAAAAA state championship appearances and the departure of coach John Ford, who left for Buford. The Hornets, under coach Matt Kemper — in his first year at Roswell — are in danger of having their first losing season since 2013, when they went 3-7 in Ford’s first season at Roswell.
The Hornets staged a second-half comeback with three touchdowns, though they failed on two points after, and were on the Tigers’ 47 with a first-and-10 and 1:54 remaining when Palmer stepped in front of a short pass.
“I was sitting on it,” said Palmer, a three-star recruit committed to Duke. “I read my keys and read the quarterback’s eyes, saw what he was doing and I just broke on the ball. We were in a Cover 3 and I had my deep third, but there was only one man on my side. I knew he was my only threat, so I just watched his hips, watched him throttle down and saw the quarterback in his throwing motion and I just broke.”
Palmer’s score punctuated a win that came mostly from a dominating first half. The Tigers blocked Roswell’s punt on the game’s opening possession and scored two plays later on Samaje Banks’ 66-yard run. Roswell tied the score on its next possession with a 43-yard touchdown pass from Cordel Littlejohn to Walt Warren.
Archer took the lead for good on its next possession with Braylen Weems’ 7-yard run, giving the Tigers a 14-7 lead with 1:20 left in the first. They’d tack on 17 more points in the second quarter on a Ronald Schjang 21-yard touchdown reception, a Michael Johnson 24-yard field goal and a Will Choloh 5-yard run. Choloh, who is listed as a 6-1, 270-pound senior defensive tackle, plowed over several Hornets defenders with 2:26 left in the first half.
The Tigers’ defense forced three punts, an interception and a turnover on downs in five of Roswell’s six first-half possessions. With the big lead heading into the second half, Tigers coach Andy Dyer opted to put in second-string players to start the second half, which allowed Roswell to creep back in the game. The Tigers punted on the second half’s opening possession and on their next possession, their reserve quarterback fumbled during a sack and the Hornets recovered on the Archer 22-yard line to begin their run.
Dyer said he didn’t regret the decision to put his reserves in early.
“I was trying to get some guys experience as we go down through the region and all of the things that we’ve got in front of us because you never know what’s going to happen,” Dyer said. “It’s a physical game and we tell our guys all the time, when your number is called, be ready to go.”
After the lost fumble, the Tigers put their starters back in, but the momentum had already shifted in Roswell’s favor.
As effective as the Tigers’ defense was in the first half, the Hornets’ offense matched them in the second half. Archer’s second-half possessions ended in three punts, a lost fumble and two turnovers on downs. Even Palmer’s interception return ended in a missed extra point.
Kamonty Jett’s 2-yard scoring run brought the score to 31-13 with 5:30 left in the third after a failed 2-point conversion. With 16 seconds left in the third, the Hornets scored again on a 76-yard Littlejohn-to-Warren pass, pulling Roswell to within 31-19 after another failed 2-point conversion.
The Hornets forced their second turnover on downs and then pulled to within 31-26 with 6:31 remaining on Jett’s second 3-yard scoring run. Archer’s next possession ended in a punt that crossed through the end zone for a touchback, but it could have been much worse for the Tigers. The snap was bad and Johnson had to scramble to recover the ball near the Tigers’ 45-yard line. He scooped it up and twisted around to get the punt off just ahead of oncoming Hornets.
The Hornets started the next possession on their own 20 with 3:54 remaining and moved the ball 33 yards before Palmer’s interception sealed the game.
Archer starting quarterback Carter Peevy finished 14 of 22 passing for 172 yards and a touchdown. Banks finished with 84 yards on 8 carries and Keegan Strickland had 78 yards on 15 carries.
Littlejohn, who is committed to Illinois, completed 13 of 24 passes for 206 yards, two touchdowns and an interception and had 45 rushing yards on 10 carries. Warren led all receivers with 143 yards and two scores on six catches. Jett had two scores and 66 yards on 21 carries.
Archer 14 17 0 6 - 37
Roswell 7 0 12 7 - 26
A - Semaje Banks 66 run (Michael Johnson kick)
R - Walt Warren 43 pass from Cordel Littlejohn (Warren kick)
A - Braylen Weems 7 run (Johnson kick)
A - Ronald Schjang 21 pass from Carter Peevy (Johnson kick)
A - Johnson 24 FG
A - Will Choloh 5 run (Johnson kick)
R - Kamonty Jett 3 run (run failed)
R - Warren 76 pass from Littlejohn (run failed)
R - Jett 3 run (Warren kick)
A - Taiyon Palmer 45 INT return (kick failed)