In a game made for heroes, it all came down to one play. With 1:31 left to play, Hazlehurst trailing 14 – 9 and facing fourth down and nine on the Tiger 32, the Indians went slot left in an obvious passing situation.
Putting the slotback in motion back to the middle of the field left Tiger defensive back Arthur Benson man-to man on the Indian wide receiver. A perfectly run post route and a perfectly thrown pass came to nothing as the perfectly positioned Benson reached in front of the receiver with his left hand, knocked down the pass, and sealed the CSHS victory.
“We played well in every phase of the game,” said Tiger Head Coach David Virgil. “We had a good game plan and we stayed with it. We wanted to run the ball right at them and burn the clock so we could keep it away from their high-powered offense, and we were able to do that well.”
Hazlehurst yielded a touchdown on Crystal Springs’ first possession, and the Indians’ early confusion on defense was no accident
“We switched packages on them (On offense),” said Offensive Coordinator Andrew Leverette. “We went to the Power-I. We knew we matched up with them on the line, so we decided to go right at them.”
The strategy paid off on Crystal Springs’ first possession with 7:40 left in the first quarter. Facing third and nine at their own 12, DeQuelle Whitfield slashed off right tackle to the 29. The next play Whitfield turned the corner around right end and sprinted 71 yards in front of the home stands for his first of two touchdowns on the night.
Quarterback Curtis Thomas fooled the Indian defense with a convincing fake handoff over left guard on the two point conversion, then reversed left and easily reached the end zone. The 8 – 0 lead coupled with a crunching tackle by Antonio Chatman on the following kickoff left Hazlehurst visibly shaken.
No one in the huge crowd expected the Indians to fold, and they didn’t. A bad punt snap on CSHS’ next possession put Hazlehurst on the board with a safety and propelled them out of their doldrums.
On their next possession, the Indians’ fleet-footed receiver Fred Fuller snagged a fourth and 12 slant pass from his wide out position on the right side and turned it up through a seam in the Tiger defense for a 37-yard touchdown. The extra point put Hazlehurst in the lead 9 – 8 with 10:21 left in the first half.
From Fuller’s touchdown on, fans on both sides began to realize they were being treated to Mississippi high school football at its finest. Like two heavyweight fighters, both teams kept delivering big play after big play, and both kept fighting back for more. The high level of play and the sportsmanship in the midst of intensity stand as a tribute to both schools’ coaching staffs and their squads.
The breakthrough came for the Tigers early in the third quarter on an eight-yard Whitfield run off right tackle for his second touchdown. “That last touchdown was tough,” said a smiling Whitfield just after the game. “There were a lot of people coming at me. Somebody grabbed me from behind, but I drug him into the end-zone.”
With 7:27 left in the third quarter and a 14 – 9 Crystal Springs lead, the scoring was over, but the thrills just kept coming. Crystal Springs dropped an obvious touchdown pass. Hazlehurst had a 69-yard touchdown called back on an obvious holding call. The Tigers stopped an Indian drive on the CSHS four with just under four minutes to play.
Losing neither a fumble nor an interception, Crystal Springs won the turnover battle as well as the ballgame. Marcus Norwood snagged two interceptions, and Benson added another.
Whitfield led all rushers with 127 yards on 13 carries. J. D. Jones added 55 yards on 8 carries, most of them hard earned in critical situations.
Counting solos and assists, Morris Reed was involved in 11 Tiger tackles, and Kenjarvis Pickett and Oscar Johnson accounted for 10 each. Rashoun Alford and Glen Loyd added 7 apiece.
Tiger standout Josh Hollins captured the entire team’s exuberance after the game: “Beating Hazlehurst means a whole lot. We haven’t beaten them in years. I’m just glad to be here and to be a part of this victory.”
The Tigers hit the playoff trail this Friday night to challenge the Newton County Cougars, the Division 5 winner.