Tucker used a powerful combination of brains, brawn and the unique athleticism of Josh Vann to overpower No. 2 seed Northside-Warner Robins 22-7 and punch its ticket to the GHSA 6A championship game.
As a result of this blend, the Tigers will next buckle up their chinstraps against fellow No. 1 seed Valdosta for the coveted state crown at the Georgia Dome.
Tucker’s vigorous defense flexed its muscles by controlling the line of scrimmage and bullying Northside's front five. They matched this superior strength with a variety of witty alignments to counter the opposition's read-option offensive strategies.
“This was a good win over a very good team. Our team is built on defense, special teams and running the football. We did a good job in all phases,” said Tucker head coach Bryan Lamar. “We had to be disciplined. They’re very well-coached. We knew it’d be a low-scoring game that could go either way. We had to be assignment sharp. We missed a couple of assignments early in the game. We made some adjustments; the kids were focused, and we got the win.”
Northside’s lone score game in the first quarter on its opening drive.
The Eagles played in a shotgun formation on each play and proceeded to march downfield with runs by halfback Trayvon Willis and quarterback Tobias Oliver. The drive concluded with Oliver taking it in for a one-yard score.
On the ensuing possession, Tucker dialed up a successful set of plays behind the churning legs of bruising running back Chris Broadwater. The Tigers got within scoring range and cut the lead to 7-3 with a 28-yard field goal by Adam Lippy.
Although he had a few plays early on, Vann officially introduced himself to the Eagles in the second quarter.
After picking up 20 yards on a scramble outside the pocket on third and three, quarterback Xavier Shephard tossed a laser to his prime target. Vann caught the pass and sprinted by the secondary for a 26-yard touchdown. Lippy’s extra point attempt was no good, giving Tucker a slim 9-7 advantage. This score would hold at halftime and throughout the bulk of the third quarter.
Both school’s defenses traded staggering punches in the third quarter in a quest to find a knockout blow. However, it was Tucker’s rough play that delivered the knee-buckling hit.
Defensive end Aaron Sterling has produced a catalog of highlights in 2016. However, perhaps his most memorable play was a scooped up loose ball on a botched option. Sterling recovered the fumble and dashed 42 yards the other way for a touchdown.
“Coach said all this week to stay focused on your assignments. I saw the football, and I was like scoop and score,” said Sterling.”
Tucker’s final touchdown took place in the fourth quarter when Shephard hurled a rainbow pass to Vann. The star wide receiver sprinted 58 yards down the sideline with his arm raised skyward in triumph as he crossed the goal line, pushing the score to 22-7. Vann’s stellar night in the semifinals included six receptions for 117 yards and two touchdowns.
“That was the biggest catch of my career because this is the semifinals. When I got it, I knew the game was over. I let the crowd know we’re going to the championship,” said Vann.
Northside finished the season at 11-3. The Eagles averaged 36.8 points entering their contest against Tucker. However, their usually reliable offense was held in check and the team exited Hallford Stadium in defeat.
“We got outplayed. We kept shooting ourselves in the foot. Uncharacteristically, we did a lot of things we don’t normally do. A lot of that had to do because Tucker made plays,” said Northside head coach Kevin Kinsler. “Offensively, we had a lot of miscues, and they did a good job of putting pressure on us. Kudos to them for making good plays. We didn’t play well when we had opportunities.”