Perhaps one of the most overused clichés in football is the mantra defense wins championships.
However, after two playoff rounds, Tucker’s defense appears as if it will keep this favorite saying flowing through the gridiron vernacular all the way to the Georgia Dome. The top-seeded Tigers’ defense piggybacked off last week's impressive showcase by imposing their will against No. 2 seed Harrison with a 23-7 win in the second round of the 6A playoffs at Adams Stadium.
Tucker next plays fellow No. 1 seed Mays in the quarterfinals at Lakewood Stadium. Mays earned the right to host this game by winning the GHSA coin toss. The Raiders advanced to this round after beating Lee County, 35-22.
Despite not getting a turnover, Tucker still dominated Harrison. The Tigers obliterated the Hoyas' offensive line by recording nine sacks. When quarterback Justin Fields had time to set his feet and throw, his passes were off target, resulting in a host of unsuccessful third-down conversions.
“We saw on film that their offensive tackles were having trouble with speed on the edge. We thought our guys were athletic enough at the defensive end position to keep some pressure on them,” said Tucker defensive coordinator Kevin Patterson.
“The biggest thing we wanted to do was keep their quarterback in the cage and be relentless in our pass rush. We did a good job on the back end of covering guys too. He didn’t have his first option open, and he got uncomfortable. We didn’t get any turnovers, but we got some stops on third and fourth down.”
After going three-and-out on its opening possession, Tucker worked its way into scoring position. Although the drive stalled, Adam Lippy made up the difference when he drilled a 42-yard field goal to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead.
On the ensuing drive, Harrison speedster Darius Clark sidestepped in the backfield, found a hole and sprinted downfield 52-yard touchdown to give his squad a 7-3 advantage. This would be their final celebratory moment.
Sensing a shift in the atmosphere, Tucker quickly nipped any momentum in the bud by marching back the other way on Harrison’s defense. Chris Broadwater concluded the drive by barreling his way across the goal line for a one-yard run. The Tigers completed a two-point conversion, but an illegal man downfield penalty negated the play, leaving the score a 9-7.
Early in the second quarter, Broadwater once again reached the end zone on a short-yardage play, pushing the score to 16-7.
Harrison showed a glimmer of hope on the next series. However, whenever it lined up on third-and-long, the Tigers’ defensive ends pinned their ears back and bull rushed through to Fields.
“All week, coach was preaching to us to dominate, be physical and show our will on those guys. They haven’t played a team on our caliber level,” said senior defensive end Aaron Sterling. “We used a bunch of blitzes. Their quarterback got scattered. He’d try to break out; that’s when the defensive ends would come in and get the sack. This was the plan for the whole week.”
Tucker’s final score came late in the third quarter on another hard-hitting run by Broadwater. The bruising back finished the night with 16 carries for 93 yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s one of the best backs in the state. He’s under the radar a lot of times. He works very hard, and he’s a great student in the classroom,” said Tucker head coach Bryan Lamar.
Harrison finishes the 2016 season with a 10-2 record. This was the first time the school reached double figures in the win column since 2002. Prior to the playoffs, the team’s last defeat took place on Oct. 21 in a 31-14 loss at Dalton.
Heading into Friday’s contest, the Hoyas averaged 35.6 points per game. However, they ran into a wall versus the Tigers and tallied a season-low seven points on the scoreboard.
“They’re a great defense and we knew that coming here. Unfortunately, we got behind and didn’t do a great job of protecting the quarterback,” said Harrison head coach Matt Dickmann. “We knew it was going to be a challenge; we just didn’t rise to the occasion. This is the strongest class since we’ve been here. They broke all the team records. They have to understand not to let this one night define you. Take that 10-2 season and be proud of it.”