ROCKWOOD – It wasn’t pretty and it certainly wasn’t easy, but the Tyner Rams will be playing for a state football championship in Class AA next Friday afternoon in Cookeville.
Facing the Rockwood Tigers here at Tom Pemberton Stadium Friday night, the Rams showed what they’re really made of as they drove for the winning touchdown in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter to advance with a hard-fought 16-10 victory in the state semifinals.
The win is Tyner’s fourth straight in the playoffs and 12th in a row after losing the first two games of the season and they are now 12-2 going into Friday’s championship game at Tennessee Tech.
Rockwood finishes its season at 10-4 after having an eight-game winning streak snapped by the Rams.
Tyner has been playing really good football in recent weeks and may have played its best game of the year last week when they totally dominated Marion County, but they didn’t play as well this week and had to dig deep into their heart to pull out a tremendously rewarding victory.
“That was a hard-fought game and we had an idea it would be, but we didn’t play well and made way too many mistakes. All that matters at this point is that we won and advanced, so who cares how badly we played,” said a jubilant Tyner coach Wayne Turner afterward.
“Despite all the adversity we had to overcome, we battled our hearts out for the entire four quarters and we came through when it counted. Our defense came up big on several plays and our offense made some huge plays when it had to. I thought Jeremy Elston had a really good game running the football,” the coach continued, referring to his senior back who led all rushers with 129 yards on 14 carries.
“Even though we didn’t play very well, we showed what kind of pride we have as this has been the goal of this team since the first day of practice. We had to keep our heads up and keep fighting, but it shouldn’t have been as close as it was.
“We should have been up at least 24-0, but penalties and mistakes killed us. But we’ll take it and head on up to Cookeville and be grateful for another chance to play for a state title,” Turner concluded.
While Elston was the leading rusher for Tyner as the Rams collected 233 yards on the ground and another 101 through the air, junior fullback Tyon Young was next with 108 yards on 27 carries that included Tyner’s first touchdown on a blast from the one.
Senior quarterback Jaylen Bowens lost big chunks of yardage on four of his six rushing attempts, but his biggest and most important gain of the day came with 4:21 to play when he scored the game-winning touchdown on a keeper from the 10.
He appeared to be stopped well short of the end zone, but he kept driving and driving and eventually crossed the goal line for the touchdown.
“That last touchdown was the hardest one I’ve ever gotten, but our team never gave up. Now we have one more game to go,” Bowens said with a huge smile on his face.
Tyner had taken a 10-0 lead in the first half, but the Tigers rallied with a touchdown on the final play of the half to get within 10-7 at intermission.
Bowens completed a 39-yard pass to Jeremiah Batiste down to the Rockwood 1 and Tyon Young scored on the next play to give Tyner a 7-0 lead following Luke Qualey’s PAT with 5:35 left in the first quarter.
Qualey booted a 28-yard field goal with 9:29 left in the second to extend the lead to 10-0.
Bowens then intercepted a Nate Brackett pass on Rockwood’s next possession to give Tyner great field position at the Tiger 25, but the drive failed when a fourth-down pass in the end zone was incomplete after what appeared to be an obvious pass interference penalty wasn’t called on Rockwood.
Tyner had another chance to score in the final minute of the first half. The Rams marched from their own 20 down to the Rockwood 5 before Qualey attempted a 23-yard field goal.
The kick was not good and it appeared that the first half had ended, but freshman Octavius Worthy scooped up the missed kick and scampered 98 yards for a touchdown as at least three Rockwood coaches and most of the team had run onto the field thinking the half was over.
Rockwood was penalized for illegal participation, but the controversial touchdown was allowed to stand as the difference was 10-7 at intermission.
Trey Treadway booted a 28-yard field goal with 53.5 seconds to go in the third period to knot the score at 10-10, setting up a frantic and physical final 12 minutes.
Rockwood was forced to punt on its first two possessions of the fourth quarter while the Rams turned the ball over on downs after Bowens was sacked for a six-yard loss on fourth-and-six.
Tyner regained possession after the Tigers second punt at their own 46 with 6:10 to play.
Elston gained 16 yards on the first play while Young followed with a gain of 14. Elston then gained nine more before an offside penalty on the Tigers gave Tyner first and goal from the 10. Bowens then scored on the next play for the final and most important touchdown of the game and possibly the season.
Rockwood had one final shot as they returned the kickoff to the 36 and still had more than four minutes to work with.
A 21-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Nate Brackett to Ryan McCain gave the Tigers a first down at the Tyner 33 and McCain gained three yards on the next play, but three straight incomplete passes from Brackett gave the ball back to the Rams with 1:23 to play.
Young gained three yards on first down and then 17 more on the next play. The clock was ticking inside a minute, so all the Rams had to do at that point was snap the ball and take a knee in victory formation as the Tyner faithful bolted onto the field to celebrate with their team as the final seconds elapsed.
Rockwood coach John Boyd admitted that his offense didn’t get the job done when it counted, but he was also quick to praise Tyner for a job well done.
“All the credit goes to Tyner,” Boyd said to Knoxville TV reporters shortly after the final horn sounded.
“We just didn’t get the job done on offense, but I can’t say enough about Tyner as they have a great football team and they made the big plays when it counted. I’m proud of what this team accomplished this season and I hate that it had to end tonight, but it’s just one of those things,” he added.
While Elston and Young spearheaded Tyner’s rushing attack, Jeremiah Batiste had two receptions for 56 yards as the Rams added 101 yards through the air for 334 total yards.
Rockwood finished with 180 total yards on offense, including 127 on the ground and 53 through the air.
McCain was the rushing leader with 81 yards on 19 carries, but he was limited to just 21 yards on eight attempts in the second half when Tyner’s defense really stepped up.
Zander Price had 29 yard on 14 carries while Joe Ashburn had 20 yards on five attempts.
Price was also Rockwood’s leading receiver with 32 yards on three catches, including a long of 38 yards late in the third quarter.
Tyner finished the game with 17 first downs while Rockwood totaled 10.
TYNER 7 3 0 6 -- 16
ROCKWOOD 0 7 3 0 -- 10
T – Tyon Young 1 run (Luke Qualey kick), 5:35 left in first;
T – Qualey 28 field goal, 9:29 left in second;
R – Octavius Worthy 98 return of missed field goal (Trey Treadway kick), 0:00 left in second;
R – Treadway 28 field goal, 0:53.5 left in third;
T – Jaylen Bowens 10 run (kick failed), 4:21 left in fourth.
(email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)