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Troup hands tough in loss to Benedictine

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Sports Editor

SAVANNAH – They didn’t make a five-hour trip to the other side of the state with the intention of getting a participation trophy.

The Troup Tigers knew how big a challenge they were facing on Saturday night in the opening round of the Class AAAA state playoffs against a formidable Benedictine squad, but they were confident.

That confidence, it turns out, wasn’t misplaced, with Troup going toe-to-toe with Benedictine in a playoff thriller at Memorial Stadium in Savannah.

While it was the home-standing Cadets escaping with a 42-35 victory, the Tigers walked off the field with their heads held high after coming so close to pulling off what would been a stunning victory.

“Benedictine is a great team, and they showed why they are the top team from this area,” Troup head coach Tanner Glisson said. “But I’m proud of the way the kids played. We’ve had four games in the last 15 games, so we were tired, but our guys gave it everything they had tonight.”

Trailing by seven, the Tigers began their final possession at their own 1-yard line after a muffed punt return.

With freshman quarterback Taeo Todd leading the way, Troup made it into Benedictine territory before a fourth-down play failed.

Benedictine was able to run out the clock and preserve the win and advance to the second round to play Cairo.

“That was the scenario we wanted. We wanted the ball down a touchdown,” Glisson said. “If we had scored, we were going to go for two.”

Glisson hadn’t, though, envisioned that potential game-winning touchdown drive starting 99 yards from the end zone.

“We drove it 60 yards, but we put ourselves in such a hole on the muff,” Glisson said. “But, it is what is. Those guys are really good. We played at a high level, especially with a young signal-caller. Hopefully this will be something we can grow on.”

Early on, it the Cadets threatening to run away and hide.

Benedictine scored easily on its opening two possessions to take a 14-0 lead, but Troup found its footing and cut its deficit to 34-28 at the half before taking the lead in the third quarter.

The Cadets reclaimed the lead late in the third quarter with a touchdown and a two-point conversion, and they held on for the win.

“Benedictine is really, really good,” Glisson said. “Their quarterback (Holden Geriner) is as good as anybody we’ve seen. Last week, we saw the kid from Carver and he’s really good. As far as a passing quarterback, this is the best one we’ve seen since Trevor Lawrence. He’s really special.”

It was the second straight road loss against one of the state’s elite teams.

In the Region 2-AAAA championship game, Troup had a 29-12 lead after three quarters before losing to Carver 32-29.

That loss dropped Troup to fourth in the region, and the reward for that was a trip to Savannah to play Benedictine.

“I hate to say this, but it felt a lot worse (against Carver) because we felt like we were the better team,” Glisson said. “Tonight, they were probably a little bit better. We had to have some things go our way to win it.”

In the first quarter, the Tigers were struggling just to stay in the game.

Benedictine made it look easy to build a 14-0 lead, and Troup was in trouble.

“I think that was a combination of, number one, it was a long bus drive, and we couldn’t get into the stadium until about 5:30 because there was game before us,” Glisson said. “And we had a hard time simulating their offensive speed, and we got on our heels. And then we had two big turnovers in the first half.”

The Tigers found the end zone on a 58-yard touchdown run by Navontae Moss, and they were off and running.

Troup trailed 34-28 at the half, and it took the lead in the third quarter on a scoring run by AJ Tucker.

Moss, in his final high-school game, had a monster night for the Tigers with touchdown runs of 58 yards and 75 yards.

Another senior, running back Anthony Ferguson, had a 65-yard touchdown run, and Tucker had scoring runs of four yards and two yards.

Cody Bray was perfect on his five extra-point attempts.

For Benedictine, the star of the night was running back Justin Thomas who had four touchdown runs.

Geriner threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Za’Quan Bryan, and Nick Dillon made two field goals.

“That’s a helluva team that we played tonight, and obviously we have a lot of things we need to fix headed into next week,” Benedictine head coach Danny Britt said. “But we’ll worry about that later. We had a great effort tonight, we kept fighting and we found a way to win – 42 is better than 35 and we did a helluva job to make that happen.”

It wasn’t the ending Troup was hoping for, but it was nonetheless another successful season for a program that has thrived under Glisson’s leadership.

The Tigers have posted five consecutive winning seasons, and they were in the state playoffs for the fifth straight year.

This year, of course, was unlike any other because of Covid-19, and Glisson was happy that a season that was in doubt came to fruition.

“That’s what we talked about in the locker room was how grateful we are that God allowed us to have a season,” Glisson said. “There were a lot of times where it was in jeopardy, but we’ll take the good with the bad and be grateful for what we got. And now we’ll give them a day or two to catch their breath. One thing is the weight room has really been neglected because of the coronavirus, and we’ve got to pound those weights and get ready for next year.”

While the Tigers will have to replace some talented seniors, the future appears bright with so many gifted players returning, including a freshman quarterback in Taeo Todd who ran for nearly 1,500 yards.

“I think with him taking snaps, we’ve got a chance over the next few years to do something special,” Glisson said.

As for the seniors, Glisson is grateful for the contributions they made to the program, and they rose to the occasion against Benedictine.

“All of those guys played extremely well,” Glisson said. “I’m proud of them. They put it all out on the line.”

After Benedictine surged to the 14-0 lead, Moss got the Tigers on the scoreboard with a 58-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter.

After Dillon made a 29-yard field goal, Ferguson’s 65-yard touchdown run and Bray’s extra point cut Benedictine’s lead to 17-14 at the close of the first quarter.

The Cadets scored the next 10 points to go up 27-14 before Kelley struck again, this time for a 75-yard touchdown run, and the Tigers trailed 27-21.

Geriner threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Thomas to put Benedictine on top 34-21, and it looked like that was going to be the score at the half before Troup came through with a critical special-teams play.

The Tigers blocked a punt, and that set up a Tucker 4-yard touchdown run, and the Cadets had a 34-28 lead at the half.

Troup carried that momentum over into the second half when it drove for a touchdown, with Tucker scoring on a 4-yard run, and Bray’s extra point gave the visiting team a 35-34 lead.

“We felt really good (at the half),” Glisson said. “We hadn’t played our best half, but it was 34-28 and we were getting the ball, and sure enough we ended up taking the lead.”

The Cadets answered with a touchdown of their own, with Thomas scoring on a 4-yard run, and they held the lead the rest of the way.

It ultimately wasn’t the Tigers’ night, but considering what the final two weeks of the season was like, Glisson was thrilled with the effort the players gave.

“To play four games in 15 or 16 days, that’s a lot to ask a kid,” Glisson said. “The bus rides, and all that, the practices, no days off. We’re real proud.”

Despite the odds, the Tigers went into the game believing they could win, and Glisson believes that’s an indication of the progress the program has made.

“Our program’s to the point now where the culture is real good, and every Friday night they feel like they have a chance to win,” Glisson said.

BENEDICTINE 42, TROUP 35

T – 14-14-7-0-35

B – 17-17-8-0-42

First quarter

BC—Justin Thomas 2-yard run (Nick Dillon kick)

BC—Za’Quan Bryan 44-yard pass from Holden Geriner (Dillon kick)

TC—Navontae Moss 58-yard run (Cody Bray kick)

BC—Nick Dillon 29-yard field goal

TC—Anthony Ferguson 65-yard run (Bray kick)

Second quarter

BC—Thomas 4-yard run (Dillon kick)

BC—Dillon 24-yard FG

TC—Marquavious Kelley 75-yard run (Bray kick)

BC—Thomas 43-yard pass from Geriner (Dillon kick)

TC—AJ Tucker 4-yard run (Bray kick)

Third quarter

TC—Tucker 2-yard run (Bray kick)

BC—Thomas 4-yard run (Dillon kick)