Tigers squeak by Canton

They call them “signature wins.” It’s the kind of win necessary for a football program to advance to the next level and convince the naysayers that the team is for real. 3A Crystal Springs got its signature win Friday night in the form of a come from behind 7 – 6 road victory over 5A Canton.
“I was impressed with the way our kids hung in there,” said Offensive Coordinator Dale Payton. “The offense, the defense, and the special teams – they all did a great job. It was a complete team win against a quality opponent.”
The game was about as physical as a high school game can get, and the win didn’t come easy. Two Crystal Springs players were sent to the hospital during the game, and two more to sports medicine after the game. All are expected to return to action soon.
Trailing 6 – 0 with 5:07 left in the game, the Tigers held on downs and took possession on their own 20 yard line.
Minutes later, facing a seemingly impossible fourth and 26 near midfield, it looked like both the drive and the game
were over. Quarterback Jamario Benson kept hope alive when he connected with receiver Jeremy Archie for exactly 26 yards and a first down.
“If we had needed 26 yards and one inch,” said Payton, “we wouldn’t have made it.” It was that close, but so was the game.
Facing a fourth and 18 near the Canton 30 just over a minute later, the drive once again looked destined for failure, but once again Benson connected for a first down, this time to Demonterius Kendrick.
Kendrick then ran a jet motion sweep that took the ball to the Canton three. Benson faked a jet sweep and, on the twentieth play of the most important drive of the year, cut inside to tie the game at 6.
Wanner Paiz, Crystal Springs’ sophomore kicker, has been an automatic on extra points all year, but was a doubtful starter before the game due to a groin injury. He wanted the kick, and the coaches sent him out.
Patrick Evans’ snap was perfect, Joshua Windom’s hold was perfect, and Paiz put the Tigers up 7 –  6 to seal the win.
It wasn’t the only big play in the game for the Tigers.
Playing with a heavily padded broken hand, Jakavis Taylor overpowered a Canton blocker on their extra point attempt in the first half and slammed the ball carrier to the turf at the line of scrimmage.
Adarius Benson’s interception late in the first quarter snuffed out a Canton threat deep in Tiger territory.
Canton almost scored with under a minute left in the first half but four defensive gems in a row turned them away.
On first down from the Tiger 15, Jared Jones and Dy’quavius Graham sacked the quarterback for a 4-yard loss. Adarius Benson broke up the second down pass, Larry Wilson took care of the third down pass, and Windom knocked away Canton’s fourth down effort in the back of the end zone.
The Tigers’ defense proved themselves to be a force to be respected. Time and again Canton would approach the Crystal Springs red zone only to be hammered on fourth down possession play.
Canton’s only score of the night was created by the only glaring mistake by the Tiger defense all night. The Tigers lost track of a Canton receiver who was absolutely all alone as he gathered in an underthrown pass in the left side of the Tiger end zone with 7:36 left in the second quarter.
The tigers’ open date this week gives them two weeks to prepare for their district opener in Jefferson County Sept. 28. Coach Payton has some pointed plans about how to use the extra preparation time.
“We’ve been getting a lot of big plays,” Payton said, “but we have to get better at making sustained drives. We want the big plays to keep coming, but we have to focus more on execution if we are going to be able to drive the football like we’re going to have to drive it to do well in district play.”
While it has become obvious that CSHS has its best team in years, it just might be that their district is the strongest it has been in years. Both Hazlehurst and Wilkinson Co. are currently 5 – 0.

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