Last Stand: Tyner Wins 2A Title In 26-24 Thriller

MVP McKinley, Stiff Defense Lifts Rams To 2nd State Championship

  • Saturday, December 3, 2022
  • James Beach
Tyner’s Marcus Lewis pulls in a touchdown reception against Riverside in the Class 2A state championship game Saturday at Finley Stadium. The Rams held off a late two-point conversion to defeat the Panthers, 26-24.
Tyner’s Marcus Lewis pulls in a touchdown reception against Riverside in the Class 2A state championship game Saturday at Finley Stadium. The Rams held off a late two-point conversion to defeat the Panthers, 26-24.
photo by M.A. Locke

Tyner's Zashun Hubbard, perhaps the most likeable kid in a Rams' uniform, was the epitome of Tyner's thrilling 26-24 victory over Decatur Riverside in Saturday's BlueCross Bowl 2A state championship tilt.

A tale of two halves. A play at the end of each. One went Riverside's way, but the one that mattered most sided with the Rams, and it was Hubbard who defined both of them.

After falling behind 15-0 in the game's first quarter, absorbing a punch the Rams haven't fielded all season, Tyner got it back on track to pull within 15-14 and looked to have that margin secured heading into the half. Hubbard cut in front a Panther receiver in the end zone and intercepted a pass, but a questionable pass inference call nullified it and Riverside managed to tack on a 28-yard field goal by Cole Yarbo for an 18-14 lead.

"I didn't think I did anything but react to the ball and the receiver fell trying to get to it, but sometimes when things go against you, you just have to forget about them and fight through them," Hubbard smiled.

And oh how the Ram defensive back forgot and fought through it. After Tyner responded with a vengeance, dominating the third quarter and striking twice for scores to take a 26-18 lead, Riverside managed its lone drive of the final half, going 81 yards in nine plays to pull within a conversion of tying the Rams with 40 seconds left in the game.

This time Hubbard made the play and no one was taking it, or the program's second state championship, from him. Needing the two-point conversion to send the game into overtime, Panthers QB Ethan Quinn hit William Wallace short of the end zone and Hubbard buried him out of bounds to start the celebration.

"They shifted motion to my side so I knew it was coming that way, and I got a good read on it. We were not going to be denied and I just knew I had to make the play," Hubbard smiled.

Two plays. Two halves.

Perhaps the biggest thing the Rams (14-1) did was survive one of their slowest starts of the season. Mr. Football finalist Josh Jackson, the field general for Tyner, misfired on his first five attempts and threw a pair of interceptions, both resulting in points for Riverside. Quinn was a perfect 5-of-5 in the quarter and 225-pound tailback Desmond Thomas rushed for 70 yards in the first half. Tyner, meanwhile, was held to just 116 first half yards as Jackson was 5-of-15 with the two picks.

"We really haven't been in that position before. Even in the Alcoa loss we played well in the first half, but Riverside did some things we didn't expect, and had to adjust to in the game. But there was no hung heads on the sidelines when we went down 15, and I wouldn't expect there to be with this group," said Tyner coach Scott Chandler. "We had the ball bounce against a few times, but guys just kept on playing."

The Rams settled down after the early haymaker, with Jackson using his legs to get things going. Tyner 69 yards in 8 plays and Jackson ran for 20 of it and connected on three passes for 33 more, including a third-down strike to Trae Ruffin for a 24-yard score.

That seemed to get Tyner back in sync and when Jonah Chapman forced a fumble that Sharkem Wells recovered, Jackson again connected on a third-down toss, this one 22 yards to Marcus Lewis and Tyner was off of life support at 15-14.

"That first score was big in just getting us settled down. Once we figured some things out, we got them corrected and I was really pleased with the defense except for their final drive. And at half, we just told them we were going to be physical and run the football. That's been a solid recipe for us the last three games," Chandler added.

Tyner's offensive line got the message and running back Markel McKinley was more than willing to shoulder the load, getting 89 of his 114 yards in the second half as Monteast Moore, Julius Allen, Chapman, Davin Pasley and Journe Norwood opened the lane.

"Yeah, just my kind of game. When we came out of the locker room at half, we knew what we were going to do. We've done that a lot this year, but getting focused was big. We were not going to lose this game, and there was never a moment when we felt like we weren't going to win it," said McKinley, whose incredible 17-yard run to open the fourth was a thing a beauty, breaking four tackles en route to the end zone.

Ruffin, who might be Tyner's most confident player, caught his second TD of the game as Tyner took the second half kick 61 yards in 11 plays. Jackson gave him a chance in the end zone and Ruffin wins most of those battles, having now caught 14 passes in the playoffs with 10 of them ending in the end zone. He played the entire second half after having his shoulder put back in place at the half.

"Game came down to 40 seconds, man. One play. I like our chances in a one play game," laughed Ruffin. "So many guys on this team, doing whatever is asked of them. We all had one purpose in this one and it involved lifting that gold ball. Just a really special bunch of teammates and I love 'em," said Ruffin.

His TD catch made it 26-18 as Tyner missed twice on extra points when either of them could have ended it. Riverside, which was held to 45 yards of offense between scoring twice in the first and its final drive, but to the Panthers credit they held the Rams out of the end zone late and drove 81 yards on 9 plays to put themselves in a spot for overtime.

"We heard all week about their big back (Thomas) and we knew we had to be effective and control the line of scrimmage," said tackle Jamarion Varnell, who broke up a key fourth down play with a tipped pass and was a menace for the Panthers' offensive line.

Jackson wound up with 111 passing yards to further cement his legacy as the most prolific passer in Tyner history. McKinley had 114 yards on 21 totes while Ruffin had 57 yards on four catches. Lewis added 34 on a pair of catches. RayShaun Hinton, who joins his father Rory as a state champion, had 11 tackles while Josiah Bridgeman added 10 and recovered the onsides kick to effectively end the game.

Jersey Chubb added nine tackles and helped Hubbard clean up on the two-point version with support driving him out of bounds.

Riverside got 89 rushing yards from Thomas on 25 carries, but had 70 of those at the half. Quinn was 12-of-19 for 143 yards and William Wallace caught five balls for 59 yards.

Tyner's win cemented Hamilton County's second Gold Ball Trophy, making it the first time ever two local squads from the city went out on top to end a season.







-- 26






-- 24


Desmond Thomas 5 run (Pass good) (3:51, 1st)


Parker Wilks 6 run (Cole Yarbro kick) (0:19, 1st)


Travius Ruffin 24 pass from Joshua Jackson (Demetrii Lovick kick) (9:10, 2nd)


Marcus Lewis 22 pass from Jackson (Demetrii Lovick kick) (4:19, 2nd)


Yabro 28 field goal ) (0:02, 2nd)


Ruffin 21 pass from Jackson (kick failed) (6:48, 3rd)


Markel McKinleyl 17 run (kick failed) ) (10:18, 4th)


Thomas 1 run (pass failed) (0:40, 4th)




First Downs






Passing Yards



Total yards



Passing (Comp-Att-Int)












Time of Possession



Individual Stats

Rushing: Markel McKinley 21-114; Joshua Jackson 9-45; Jarius Cameron 1-(-2) (TYN); Desmond Thomas 25-89; Parker Wilks 6-35; Jagger Cupples 2-4; Ethan Quinn 2-1 (RIV).

Passing: Joshua Jackson 10-25-2 for 111 yards, 3 TDs (TYN); Ethan Quinn 12-19-0 for 143 yards; William Wallace 1-1-0 for 27 yards (RIV).

Receiving: Travius Ruffin 4-57: Marcus Lewis 4-34; Jersey Chubb 1-12; Javarious Cameron 1-8 (TYN); William Wallace 5-89; Aiden Creasey 4-43; Desmond Thomas 2-54; Jagger Cupple 1-14; Parker Wilks 1-0 (RIV).

Records: Tyner 14-1; Riverside 12-3

Most Valuable Player: Markel McKinley, Tyner

(Contact James Beach at

Tyner fans celebrate a score.
Tyner fans celebrate a score.
photo by M.A. Locke
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