Sep. 4—Tuscola wrapped up a two-game road trip with a decisive 44-22 victory over the McDowell Titans on Friday night in Marion. The win moves the Mountaineers to 2-1 on the season as they look ahead to Swain County this coming Friday.
Tuscola head coach Jonathan Crompton, when speaking on "The Jonathan Crompton Show" on Tuscola Football Network, likened the game to a backyard brawl.
"You get two historically hard-nosed teams, and the kids buy-in to what you do on all three phases of the ball from both programs; that's what you're going to get... Both teams on both sides of the ball played extremely physically and well, and it was as clean of a game as you can play at 15-16-years old. It was good for us to see that, and it's only going to help us when we get deep into conference. We were up for the challenge, and the guys responded," he said.
Game opens with dueling touchdowns
Although Tuscola rolled to a dominant double-digit point win over the Titans, McDowell's opening drive for the game was not a harbinger of things to come.
On the legs of a solid rushing attack, in addition to a facemask penalty incurred by the Mountaineers defense, McDowell capped the opening drive with a play-action touchdown pass to wide receiver Jackson Marsh. A successful two-point conversion gave the Titans the early 8-0 lead.
With more than half of the first quarter eaten up by McDowell, Tuscola's offense had to play fast, and the Mountaineers did just that. Junior running back Gavin Langley took his first handoff nearly 50 yards, setting Tuscola up on McDowell's 20-yard line.
An incomplete pass, an illegal procedure penalty and a run for no gain stalled the Mountaineers in the red zone. A pass from senior quarterback Jed West to senior wide receiver K.J. Vang gave the Mountaineers a short third-and-three. Langley took the third-down handoff all the way to paydirt to score Tuscola's opening touchdown. A successful two-point conversion followed, tying the game at eight-all.
Down eight points, Crompton said he trusted his offense, especially quarterback Jed West, to go onto the field and execute their system.
"I put a tremendous amount on Jed mentally to let him get us in the right play, which is so fun for me to watch because we talk about it, we watch it on the tape and see it during practice. You don't have to mention it twice. He genuinely understands what we're trying to do in the run game, pass game and play action. He can get us in the right situation. He's an all-around heck of a football player. Our guys have bought into him," he said.
Tuscola takes the lead
After a big kickoff return by McDowell was negated by a penalty, the Titans found themselves in a quick third-down scenario. Jeb Marsh kept the ball on third-and-short, but the play was blown up in the backfield by two Mounties defenders.
Head coach Darrell Brewer opted to go for it on fourth down, trusting his quarterback to pick it up. The play resulted in a very close spot, but the officials gave it to McDowell along with a new set of downs.
Three straight failed plays, including a quarterback sack by Tuscola's Walker Bolden and Ty Walker, forced the Titans to punt as the first quarter ended. But the luck was on the Mountaineers' side as the punt sailed over the punter's head, and he was tackled at his own 1-yard line, setting Tuscola up with a golden opportunity to take an early lead.
West took the one-yard handoff for the score, and after another successful two-point conversion, Tuscola had the 16-8 lead.
McDowell abandoned the running game stifled on the previous drive and aired it out, going deep down the right sideline. Although the pass was knocked incomplete, the play incurred a defensive pass interference penalty that gave McDowell a new set of downs.
When the Titans tried to run the ball, it was fumbled by the back and picked up by Tuscola's Brandon Jordan on McDowell's 40-yard line. But the drive would go nowhere as West's pass down the left sideline was intercepted by McDowell.
Showing his elusiveness, Jeb Marsh scampered nearly 70 yards downfield until Mountaineer Bryant Oancea made the touchdown-saving tackle at the Tuscola 3-yard line. Behind a jumbo set, McDowell pushed the pile into the endzone for its second score of the game. A successful two-point conversion tied the game at 16-all.
Tuscola's ensuing drive would stall out at midfield when a tackle for loss on third-and-eight forced the Mounties to punt for the first time.
Stifled again on their opening plays, McDowell managed to pick up the short third down on a run. Jeb Marsh was crushed by two Tuscola defenders on first down, but not before he let the ball loose down the middle of the field, where Jackson Marsh dove and caught the ball at midfield. The Titans drive stalled out, however, and the game was tied 16-16 at halftime.
Mounties pull away in second half
Cooper Williamson had a big return on the third-quarter kickoff that set up Tuscola on McDowell's 26-yard line. A first-down run by Bridger Jones and a pass to Williamson set the Mountaineers up with first-and-goal. Langley scored his second rushing touchdown of the game two plays later to give Tuscola the lead. The Mounties third-straight two-point conversion attempt was no good, leaving Tuscola with a 22-16 lead.
McDowell's Jackson Marsh returned the ensuing kickoff return to the Titans own 44-yard line, but a three-and-out forced McDowell to punt.
Three straight runs on Tuscola's next possession set up a 4th down with 3 yards to go. Crompton put the ball in West's hands, who took the direct snap to the 49-yard line for the first down.
West unleashed the deep ball on first down, finding Oancea on the 8-yard line, who strolled into the endzone for the 51-yard touchdown. A successful two-point conversion put the Mountaineers up 30-16 with just over six minutes left in the third quarter.
McDowell's final third-quarter possession ended in a turnover on downs, but Tuscola did not take its foot off the gas pedal. West threw a deep pass to sophomore Amos Rich for the Mountaineers' third-straight touchdown drive. Yet another successful two-point conversion extended the lead to 38-16.
The Titans began their ensuing drive at their own 20-yard line, and a quick catch and run got McDowell to midfield. After starter Jeb Marsh was pulled due to an injury, the backup quarterback's pass would be intercepted by Oancea.
Crompton praised the work of assistant coach Austin Chambers.
"The kids have bought into his vision and his mentality of what he sees and what wants out of them... If I could tell you how much we put on the kids as far as the mental side of knowing what to do here and this check, it's not a high school level stuff. They handle it well, they understand it's okay to ask a question to make sure they do get it right. Defensively, it's fun to see our kids fly around," he said.
Tuscola bled clock behind its rushing triumvirate of Langley, Jones and Williamson, but Jed West found the seem, taking the ball 64 yards for the touchdown. The two-point conversion was no good, leaving the score 44-16 Tuscola.
McDowell stuck with the run game and picked up chunk yardage to cross midfield against Tuscola's second-string defense. Another big run got McDowell to the Tuscola 20-yard line, where a run off the left side of the offensive line picked up McDowell's first touchdown of the second half. The Titans two-point attempt was unsuccessful, making the score 44-22.
Neither team's final possession resulted in a score.
Tuscola returns home this Friday against 1A opponent Swain County in the Mountaineers' final nonconference game of the season. The Maroon Devils are 3-0 and have two-straight victories over Mountain 7 Conference teams — Smoky Mountain (14-10 on Aug. 25) and Franklin (40-13 on Sep. 1).
Tuscola hosts Swain County at 7 p.m., Friday, Sep. 8, at C.E. Weatherby Stadium in Waynesville.
Note: Tune in every Saturday to "The Jonathan Crompton Show" on Tuscola Football Network on Facebook at "Tuscola Football Network" or by searching "The Jonathan Crompton Show" on Youtube.