DECATUR, Tenn. -- It's a play that will be talked about for years to come at Meigs County High School.
Needing a stop on a two-point conversion to preserve a 22-20 lead with 1:52 to play in the Class 2A semifinal, Tiger linebacker Hagan Lowe stuffed Trousdale County's attempt to run over right tackle.
Meigs County recovered the on-side kick and held on to earn its first state championship berth in 25 years, a feat that brought coaches and players to unfiltered tears of joy.
"For this to be the last game I'll ever play at home, I couldn't ask for anything better," said senior quarterback Aaron Swafford through watery eyes.
"The long summers, the conditioning, the weight room with my friends, it's been one hell of a ride."
The victory is a reversal of fate after the Yellowjackets ended the Tigers' season last year with a heart-breaking 32-29 loss in the same round. Meigs County (13-1) will now take on defending champ Peabody (14-0) in the BlueCross Bowl at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville next Saturday morning at noon local time.
"We told them in the locker room that it was going to come down to five or six plays," said Tigers' coach Jason Fitzgerald. "It wasn't going to necessarily be the team with the most talent who made those plays, but the team with the most heart. We got down there on the 3-yard line and it was the team with the most heart that made that play, and we stopped them short."
"Meigs County football is blue-collar. We've been down before and we just keep fighting. For a team like (Trousdale) with all that tradition, for us to keep fighting and come out on top shows what we're made of inside."
On a night when Meigs County's typically explosive offense was held in check -- the Tigers only had 224 yards of total offense -- it was fitting that the defense came up with the big play to seal the victory. Meigs County (13-1) held the Yellowjackets (12-2) to 265 yards, all on the ground.
After a scoreless first half, Trousdale ensured fans that the scoreboard still worked early in the third quarter. Just two minutes into the period, Cameron Rankins broke containment around the right side of the line and raced 48 yards down the sideline to give the Yellowjackets a 7-0 lead.
The score seemed to wake up the Tigers' offense, which finally got rolling on the next possession. Facing a third down from near midfield, Swafford hit senior Gabriel Maldonado for 16 yards and a first down. Just a few plays later the two hooked up again for a 20-yard touchdown pass on a route up the left seam. Swafford's two-point run put the home team ahead 8-7.
"This is a Cinderella story," said Maldonado. "We've been denied for three years, and all we can do now is end this with a championship.
After a defensive stop, the offense maintained momentum on the next drive. Swafford capped it off with a powerful 8-yard run that he finished by plowing over a Yellowjacket defender at the goal-line. A failed conversion left the Meigs County advantage at 14-7.
Trousdale didn't waste any time pulling some of that momentum back. Needing just three minutes, the Yellowjackets evened the game up on a 12-yard touchdown run by Kobe Ford.
With the game now hanging in the balance, Swafford, who had been limited on the ground throughout the game, again used his arm and stellar group of receivers to move the ball down the field. The big play was a 43-yard bomb to Cameron Huckabey in which the sophomore went up over two Trousdale defenders to haul in the pass.
"I saw the ball and I knew I had to make a play for my team and come down with it," said Huckabey. "My grandmother passed away earlier this season. She came to every one of my games. This is all for her. I can't explain it, but this is all for her."
It was Swafford with a 9-yard rushing touchdown with 5:15 left, and the 2019 Mr. Football finalist again on the two-point conversion, and the Tigers’ sideline and the home crowd could smell a trip to Cookeville.
But Trousdale would not go away. Moving down the field on what became clear would be the game-deciding drive, it was Rankins again with the touchdown run that would set up the dramatic two-point try.
Having run the tailback dive off-tackle for relative success all game, Lowe said he saw the formation and knew what was coming. But knowing and executing are two different things, and the junior executed to perfection.
"They had been doing that all night, so I knew it was going that way," Lowe said. "I just wanted to fill the hole. I knew I had to give my all the entire game; this win means the world to me."
The on-side kick was smothered by Meigs County's Logan Carroll, and the game was sealed after a Swafford 7-yard run and an offsides penalty gave the Tigers a first down. The victory formation on this occasion wasn't just for another Meigs County victory, but for a chance to play for the gold ball.
Swafford was held to just 68 yards rushing on 25 carries and 95 yards through the air on 5-of-7 passing, but accounted for all three Tigers' touchdowns. Will Meadows also had 61 yards on the ground.
None of those stats matter to Swafford. Despite all the awards and accolades, he has continually deflected the attention towards the team and the community, and this game was no different.
"We have it posted all over the walls in the locker room to win for this town, and that's what we did tonight," a humble Swafford said. "We came out and we didn't play for the names on the backs of our jerseys, we played for the name on the front. We won tonight for everyone that supports us, and we're going to win a state championship for them."
"I don't want people to talk about Aaron Swafford ten years from now. I want them to talk about the 2019 Meigs County football team, because we're going to go down in history and win the first-ever state championship for this school and this community."
MEIGS COUNTY 22, TROUSDALE COUNTY 20
Trousdale County 0 0 7 13 -- 20
Meigs County 0 0 14 8 -- 22
TC -- Cameron Rankins 48 run (Heath Chasse kick), 9:57
MC -- Gabriel Maldonado 20 pass from Aaron Swafford (Swafford run), 6:04
MC -- Swafford 8 run (pass failed), 0:13
TC -- Kobe Ford 12 run (Chasse kick), 9:08
MC -- Swafford 9 run (Swafford run GAME), 5:15
TC -- Rankins 3 run (run failed), 1:52
First Downs 12 10
Rushes-Yards 44-265 36-129
Passing 0 95
Total yards 265 224
Comp-Att-Int 0-2-0 5-7-0
Punts-Avg. 4-35.25 4-40.5
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 6-51 8-89
Rushing: Rankins 22-126, Ford 12-86, Jayden Hicks 7-54 (TC); Swafford 25-68, Will Meadows 11-61 (MC).
Passing: Rankins 0-2-0, 0 (TC); Swafford 5-7-0, 95 (MC).
Receiving: Cameron Huckabey 2-55 (MC).
Other Standouts: Chris Wood fumble recovery (MC).
Records: Meigs County 13-1; Trousdale County 12-2.
(E-mail Kevin Llewallyn at firstname.lastname@example.org)