Defense comes up big for Tigers
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It wasn’t quite desperation time, but the Troup Tigers needed to make a play.
The Cairo Syrupmakers had taken a 17-13 lead with 3:22 remaining in the third quarter of Friday’s quarterfinal playoff game, and the Tigers went three-and-out on their ensuing defensive possession and had to punt.
Cairo took over at midfield, and it was on the Troup 29-yard line when head coach Steve DeVoursney decided to go for it on fourth-and-one.
It was a critical moment in the game.
The Syrupmakers had an opportunity to put a stranglehold on the game with another touchdown, while the Tigers could flip momentum with a defensive stand.
The Tigers were up to the challenge.
Troup stuffed Cairo for no gain on fourth down, giving the ball back to the offense in a four-point game.
Troup drove for the go-ahead touchdown, and it held on for a 20-17 victory to advance to the semifinals of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
“It really was huge,” Troup senior defensive back Alonzo Ogletree said of the fourth-down stop. “We talked before we came on the field that we’ve got to get a stop. That’s really all there was to it. We got that stop, and that swung momentum around. It changed the whole course of the game.”
GOING THE DISTANCE: Following Troup’s defensive stand, the offense took over at its own 28-yard line with 12 seconds left in the third quarter.
Six plays later, the Tigers were in the end zone with the go-ahead touchdown.
It had been a quiet night to that point for wide receiver Jamari Thrash, but he caught back-to-back passes of 34 and 28 yards to put the ball on the Cairo 10-yard line.
The next three plays netted four yards, and Troup faced fourth-and-goal from the 6-yard line.
Troup head coach Tanner Glisson didn’t hesitate to keep the offense on the field, and that decision paid huge dividends.
Offensive coordinator Kelby Holt opened up the play book, calling for a trick play that the Tigers have worked on often in practice.
Quarterback Kobe Hudson flipped the ball behind him to Ja’Rell Smith, a talented junior wide receiver.
Smith lofted the ball into the end zone to Thrash, who was covered, but the senior made the catch for the 6-yard touchdown with 10:38 left in the game.
Helsyn Martinez converted the extra point to give Troup a 20-17 lead, and that was the final score.
“We have a lot of confidence in our offense,” Thrash said. “To go for it on fourth-and-six and not kick a field goal, that shows how bad we want it. We really wanted to win that game.”
Holt made the play call, and Glisson gave the go-ahead.
“That’s something we worked on a lot,” Glisson said. “Kelby made that call, so we were good to go.”
SPECIAL-TEAMS SUCCESS: Troup had two critical field-goal blocks that were massively important in a three-point game.
On the final play of the first half, Andy Boykin broke through and blocked a field goal, keeping Cairo from expanding its 10-7 lead.
Early in the third quarter, the Syrupmakers once again lined up for a field goal, and Nick Ligon came through with the block, so it remained a 10-7 game.
Midway through the third quarter Cairo was back on the Troup side of the field with an opportunity to kick a field goal, but Jones couldn’t connect from 37 yards.
Ligon provided pressure and nearly blocked the kick, perhaps contributing to the miss.
Three consecutive times Cairo drove into Troup territory with a chance to pad its lead, but it came away empty on each trip.
THE PLAY-MAKER: Troup junior quarterback Kobe Hudson has been making big plays all season, and Friday night was no exception.
On Troup’s opening possession, Hudson found senior Joko Willis over the middle for a 55-yard touchdown.
It was a perfect pass, with Willis catching the ball in stride before racing the final 30 yards or so for the touchdown.
In the third quarter, Hudson did it with his feet.
Hudson got to the left sideline and beat Cairo’s defense for an 80-yard touchdown run, giving Troup a temporary 13-10 lead.
During the go-ahead touchdown drive that spanned part of the third and fourth quarters, Hudson completed passes of 34 and 28 yards to Jamari Thrash that put the ball on the Cairo 10-yard line, setting up Ja’Rell Sith’s scoring pass to Thrash.
“I just give all of the credit to my teammates,” Hudson said. “They played hard. I know they’ve got my back, so I’ve got to have their back. When it’s time for them to make the big play, they make it. When it’s time for me to make the big play, I make it.”
On his touchdown run, Hudson said some outstanding downfield blocking helped spring him.
“My receivers were blocking 20 yards down the field,” Hudson said. “I couldn’t do nothing without them.”
THE NUMBERS: Kobe Hudson continues to have his way with opposing defenses in the playoffs.
After monster games against Oconee County and Pickens County in the first two rounds, Hudson kept it going against Cairo.
Hudson completed 7-of-14 passes for 145 yards with a touchdown, and he ran for 155 yards on 13 attempts with a touchdown.
Junior running back Trey Williams got a lot of the tough yards for Troup with 62 yards on 16 attempts.
Jamari Thrash had three catches for 67 yards, all on the go-ahead touchdown drive in the second half.
Thrash caught a 6-yard scoring pass from wide receiver Ja’Rell Smith for the touchdown. Smith had three receptions for 16 yards, and he also threw a scoring pass.
Joko Willis only had one catch, but it went 55 yards for a touchdown.