Tigers ready for first-round test
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It was a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking loss, but the Troup Tigers didn’t have long to dwell on it.
Troup had a 29-12 lead after three quarters in Saturday’s Region 2-AAAA championship game against Carver, but they ended up losing 32-29 after giving up a touchdown pass on fourth-and-long with 13 seconds remaining.
A win would have giving the Tigers their first region title in more than 30 years while also securing a home game in the state playoffs. Instead, Troup dropped to fourth in Region 2-AAAA, and it was faced with a road trip to Savannah to take on one of the state’s powerhouses in Benedictine.
The game was originally supposed to be played on Friday, but it was pushed back to Saturday because of a decision by the Georgia High School Association.
The game will be played at Memorial Stadium, with kickoff set for 7 p.m.
“That disappointment will probably stay with you a lifetime, especially if you’re a senior, but there’s nothing you can do about it,” said Troup head coach Tanner Glisson. “That’s life. That’s how life works. I think they’ve bounced back pretty good. We’re worried about the long bus drive, and us being tired from a four-hour bus drive, but I thought practices have been good. I think the extra day helps us.”
Despite the disappointment of the Carver game, Glisson likes what he’s seen from his team after a difficult start to the season.
The Tigers lost their first three games, but they followed that up with six consecutive wins, and they were a play away from heading into the playoffs on a seven-game winning streak.
“We’re a good football team right now,” Glisson said. “We were not really a good football team in the first two or three games, but about the midway point, we started really hitting our stride. We’re probably one turnover away from beating Carver by two touchdowns. So, we’re a good football team. Our kids know it. We feel good about who we are. We can’t go make mistakes on the road, and we have to play really good on special teams.”
The Tigers have thrived offensively with freshman quarterback Taeo Todd leading the way.
Todd has run for 1,392 yards with an average of 11 yards per carry, and he has 11 touchdowns.
Running backs Anthony Ferguson, Navontae Moss and KJ Tucker have combined for more than 1,700 rushing yards with 18 touchdowns, and wide receiver Marquavious Kelley has also become a part of the running game, and he had a 65-yard touchdown against Carver.
While Todd has shown the ability to beat defenses with his passing arm, Troup has been almost exclusively a running team late in the season.
“The thing with Taeo is he can throw the ball, we just haven’t had to,” Glisson said. “There’s no reason to throw it when you can run it. So we’re pretty confident in the running ability.”
Troup’s defense has been stout all season.
It’s a combination of veterans, including senior defensive linemen Jordan Adams and Christopher Hilton, senior defensive backs Sirr Morgan and Jase Godwin, senior linebacker Zy Varner, and newcomers, including freshmen defensive linemen Qua Birdsong and Jacob Bailey, as well as freshman linebacker TJ Mitchell.
Troup has also thrived on special teams most of the season, with Cody Bray handling the place-kicking duties, and Isaac Andrews doing a stellar job at punter.
“We feel like we’re a good football team, and we’ve got to show up and play very well, and we’ll see what happens,” Glisson said.
Troup’s opponent is a Benedictine team that knows what it takes to succeed this time of year.
Benedictine won state championships in 2014 and 2016, and it has consistently advanced deep into the playoffs under head coach Danny Britt.
This team appears capable of making another title run.
Benedictine’s offense is led by quarterback Holden Geriner, who has completed 107-of-153 passes for 1,694 yards with 17 touchdowns and only one interception.
Benedictine has also thrived on the ground with more than 1,500 rushing yards in eight games, and Leshon Brooks leads the way with 625 yards and two touchdowns.
Benedictine has shown a tendency of giving up points, with its defense allowing 26 points per game.
Nonetheless, Glisson knows how big of a challenge his team is facing.
“Their quarterback has been offered by Georgia, Auburn and Arkansas, and their receiving-corps is really good,” Glisson said. “They do a lot of things offensively that give you a lot of trouble as far as multiple sets. Defensively, they rally to the ball, and they’re coached very well.”
That the Tigers made it to this point is an accomplishment.
In the year of Covid-19, that there would be a football season was far from guaranteed, yet the Tigers have made it through the regular season and are set for their playoff opener.
“I never would have thought we’d make it here,” Glisson said. “Trust me there were plenty of bumps in the road. This is a season when you look back on it, our grand kids won’t believe what we went through. I’m so proud of our coaches and our players how they persevered and got through it.”
WHEN: Saturday, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Memorial Stadium (Savannah)
WHAT: First round of the Class AAAA state playoffs
RECORDS: Troup (6-4 overall, 6-2 in Region 2-AAAA); Benedictine (6-2 overall)