In a matchup of big name programs with big name players, it was perhaps the smallest player in stature who towered over the opposition as the difference maker in the ballgame.
Tucker running back Taurean Taylor, who stands at 5’9”, scored two touchdowns including the game-winner on a 78-yard run with 6:41 left on the clock to give the Tigers a 29-26 come-from-behind win against Lovejoy at Adams Stadium.
“Taurean is one of the best junior backs in the state, if not the country,” said Tucker head coach Bryan Lamar. “He’s a smaller guy, so he gets overlooked. He’s explosive and extremely fast. He’s as tough a football player that I’ve ever coached. He’s a physical guy. He’ll block. He’ll catch. He’ll run. He is a kid who loves to compete. It was a big game and he competed his butt off on offense and special teams.”
With the win, the state-ranked Tigers (No. 7 AAAAAA) improve to 4-0 in league play and take sole possession of first place in Region 4-AAAAAA. Tucker’s overall record now stands at 6-1.
Friday’s contest was the hottest ticket in town for Region 4-AAAAAA action and it lived up to its top billing.
The visiting Wildcats scored on several long-distance plays. The first of which was a 58-yard run by Zion Custis to put Lovejoy up, 7-0.
In the second quarter, Tucker answered back with a heavy dose of runs by Taylor and Chris Broadwater. The key play of the drive was a one-handed over-the-shoulder grab by wide receiver Josh Vann at the one-yard line. Broadwater followed up the catch with a score to even the game at 7-7.
Lovejoy would regain the lead when quarterback John Seter connected with Marquese Taylor in the back corner of the end zone. The extra point attempt was no good and Wildcats lead, 13-7.
Tucker’s second touchdown came with Taylor hauled in a 37-yard strike from Xavier Shephard. The rainbow pitch and catch gave the Tigers a slim 14-13 advantage.
The explosive second quarter was capped off by another touchdown toss from Seter to Taylor. Lovejoy’s star wide receiver caught the ball, dipped by two would-be tacklers and sprinted 80 yards down the sideline. They failed to score on a two-point conversion and led 19-14 at the half.
It appeared as if the game would get out of control following another big scoring play for the Wildcats. On the third play from scrimmage to open the half, Custis found another wide seam and used his blazing speed to blow by the defense for a 72-yard touchdown for a 26-14 score. This would be Lovejoy’s last trip to the end zone.
Instead of wallowing in misery, Tucker picked up the pieces and began to mount its comeback. The Tigers scored on the next possession when Broadwater ran in for a 5-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 26-21. This score would hold heading into the fourth quarter.
In the final frame, Tucker’s defense rose to the occasion with pivotal stops on third and fourth downs along with getting an interception.
The Tigers completed their rally when the aforementioned Taylor ran through a gaping hole and didn’t slow down until he was well past the goal line. He rushed for 140 yards on 12 carries with a pair of touchdowns (one receiving, one rushing).
“We came out and played physical. I just want to thank my coaches and my line for giving me the chance. I’m just doing what God has blessed me to do," said Taylor. “On that score, I saw my guard kick out the linebacker. I saw a straight shot and hit it as fast as I could.”
Tucker showcased true grit in overcoming two interceptions, a fumble, double-figure disadvantage on the scoreboard and off-the-field woes to secure the victory.
“We talk about overcoming adversity. We have six starters out on defense. We’re not sitting here making excuses. We have guys out with suspensions and injuries,” said Lamar.
“We knew their running back was very good. We knew their wide receivers were good. We knew their quarterback can throw the ball well. We knew the offensive line would give them a chance. All those things went in the favor, but we found a way to win the game and stay in this region championship race.”
Lovejoy falls to 4-1 in the region and 4-4 overall.
“Tucker is a great football program. We both played hard. We just came up short. We have to keep grinding and get ready for next week. Penalties hurt us and we have to make plays,” said Wildcats head coach Edgar Carson.
The Tigers next face Drew at Adams Stadium. Lovejoy has a short week and returns to action Thursday, Oct. 20 when it plays host to M.L. King.