Friday’s District 6-AA high school football clash between Tyner and Hixson was supposed to be a battle for early-season bragging rights.
What a battle it was.
Hixson scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns – each one set up by an interception – in the final 8:13 and rallied from two scores down to defeat the visiting Rams, 48-35, at Hixson Community Stadium and slip into the cat-bird’s seat for the 2013 league title.
“We said at halftime that we didn’t play like we can play, but we’re only one touchdown down,” Hixson coach Jason Fitzgerald said. “We felt good and came out in the second half and played our tails off.”
Tyner (0-2 overall, 0-1 district) scored three times in the second quarter and went into halftime with a 28-21 lead. Hixson (2-1, 1-0) had to score 15 second-quarter points just to keep pace with the Rams.
However, Hixson’s defense throttled the Rams offense and held them to seven second-half points – that score produced a 35-21 lead – while the Wildcats’ offense, led by running backs Isaiah Robinson and Kedrick Bradley, kept pounding at Tyner’s defensive mid-section for 27 points after the break.
Robinson finished with a game-high 169 yards on 24 carries and scored touchdowns – seprated by just 40 seconds – on runs of 2 and 3 yards.
Bradley had rushed 20 times for 133 yards and first-half touchdowns on runs of 13 and 35 yards. Bradley also caught a 10-yard pass from quarterback Gill Brown in the third quarter.
Brown, who ran for two touchdowns, completed four passes for 50 yards, all four went to Bradley, 32 coming on his first reception on a flare into the right flat.
Robinson and Bradley combined for 302 of Hixson’s 332 rushing yards, helping the Wildcats average 6.3 yards per carry.
“We fought hard,” Robinson said. “Coach always tells us to play for 48 minutes. We were down by seven at halftime, but came out with the right attitude and, as you can see on the scoreboard, we came out on top.”
Most of Tyner’s offensive punch came from senior Willie Stewart, who rushed for 122 yards on 12 carries and returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown that gave the Rams their seven-point halftime cushion.
“Last year the blew us out on our homecoming,” Stewart said, “so we wanted to pay them back. We tried, but it didn’t work out. This game was to determine who will be the district champion and who will be the runner-up. Looks like we’re second.”
As much as the Hixson ground assault battered the Rams, interceptions by James Cole, Darion Nicholson and Justin Nicholson were three of the biggest plays of the night.
Tyner led 35-28 after Brown hit Bradley for the 10-yard strike with 1:26 left in the third quarter.
The Rams launched a drive starting from their own 20. On third-and-five from the Wildcats’ 34, quarterback Haasan Miller hooked up with Sadik Spence for a 13-yard gainer to the Hixson 21. Stewart picked up 4 on first down. Stewart was sacked for a 3-yard loss. A bad center snap added 3 more yards to the deficit.
On fourth down, the Rams went for broke.
But Cole stepped in front of a Tyner receiver, snagged the throw and darted down the sideline all the way to Tyner’s 14. Robinson gained 12 on first down and Brown zipped 2 yards for the touchdown that pulled the Wildcats within 35-34 with 8:13 left. The extra-point kick was blocked.
Starting from their own 35, the Rams moved to Hixson’s 47 in two plays.
On second-and-eight, Miller was picked off by Darion Nicholson at the Wildcats’ 19.
“That was huge,” said Fitzgerald, in his second year at Hixson.
“It was a real big play,” he said. “Coach tells us to play our role and I played my role. I was backing up because I was late into my back pedal. When he (Miller) threw the ball I knew I was going to get it.”
Nicholson, a senior, now has five career interceptions, three this season – he’s also forced two fumbles.
Tyner coach Wayne Turner felt a seismic shift in the momentum after Nicholson’s clutch play.
“We could have gone up two scores at that time,” Tyner coach Wayne Turner said. “After the two bad plays we panicked and threw the big mistake. That was the game-changer.
“It gave them the momentum. If we score there, or just keep the ball down on that end of the field, then we’ve still got the momentum. But we gave them an opportunity to score and they capitalized on it.”
And Hixson, which snapped a six-game losing streak to Tyner with last year’s 28-19 victory, now has a two-game winning streak over the Rams. And, if the Wildcats take care of business the rest of the way, they’ve got a real shot at the regular-season title.
“This one was big because Tyner is our biggest challenge in the district,” Nicholson said. “That’s what we believe. We still have to stay humble, but that was the team we needed to beat.”
The Wildcats then methodically drove 81 yards on 11 plays – all on the ground – and Robinson had 54 yards on five carries, including the 2-yard touchdown that pushed Hixson ahead, 40-35. The try for two points on a pass failed.
The touchdown play appeared to be clogged up at the line of scrimmage, but suddenly a hole opened up like the parting of waters in the Red Sea and Robinson strolled into the end zone.
“It was supposed to go outside, but I cut back in and the blocking was great,” Robinson said. “(The hole) was open, so I went in.”
Three minutes, 28 seconds remained.
On Tyner’s first play after the Hixson touchdown, Miller went deep only to have Justin Nicholson, a sophomore, pluck it out of the air at the Tyner 21. Coupled with the interception and a facemask penalty on the Rams, Hixson set up shop at the 9.
Bradley picked up 6 yards and Robinson handled the final 3 with 2:52 left. Brown ran for the two-point conversion and Hixson’s fans started celebrating.
Hixson utilized its size advantage and depth to perfection against the Rams, who have to play numerous players both ways.
“We don’t play any offensive linemen both ways and we keep our defensive linemen fresh,” Fitzgerald said. “We knew the way they were playing up front we just had to keep pounding them and eventually we might be able to wear them down, and that’s what we did in the second half.”
Turner knew what to expect from the Wildcats, but there was little the Rams could do to slow the onslaught after halfltime.
“Once you start wearing down, they put that weight on you and drive you out of there,” Turner said of the battle in the trenches. “That’s basically happened in the third and fourth quarters.”
Tyner 7 21 7 0 -- 35
Hixson 6 15 7 20 -- 48
TYN – Jarrett Watson 40 pass from Haasan Miller (Kevin Cortes kick), 3:54
HIX – Kedrick Bradley 13 run (kick blocked), 1:29
TYN – Miller 2 run (kick blocked), 9:33
HIX – Gill Brown 1 run (Isaiah Robinson pass from Brown), 7:50
TYN – Sadik Spence 16 pass from Miller (Miller run), 6:51
HIX – Bradley 35 run (Luke White kick), 5:46
TYN – Willie Stewart 80 kickoff return (Cortes kick), 5:28
TYN – Watson 2 run (Cortes kick), 8:12
HIX – Bradley 10 pass from Brown (White kick), 1:26
HIX – Brown 2 run (kick blocked), 8:13
HIX – Robinson 2 run (pass failed), 3:28
HIX – Robinson 3 run (Brown run) 2:52
First Downs 11 20
Rushes-Yards 35-180 53-332
Passing Yards 110 50
Total Yards 48-290 60-382
Com.-Att.-Int. 7-13-3 4-7-1
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 3-3
Punts.-Avg. 2-26 2-43.5
Penalties-Yds. 13-106 545
RUSHING — Tyner: Willie Stewart 11-122, Haasan Miller 10-37, Sadik Spence 4-22, Jarrett Watson 4-4, Drakkel Parker 4-0, Jaylen Grimes 1-minus 2, Team 1-minus 3; Hixson: Isaiah Robinson 24-169, Kedrick Bradley 20-133, Gill Brown 8-27, Austin Gilkey 1-5, Team 2-minus 2.
PASSING — Tyner: Miller 7-13-3-110; Hixson: Brown 4-7-1-50.
RECEIVING — Tyner: Watson 1-40, Spence 2-29, Brandon Jackson 1-16, Rodney Watson 1-14, C.J. Ryals 1-13; Hixson: Bradley 4-50.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)