By Jonathan Deal
The last time Tanner played a road playoff game, the Rattlers left Reeltown with a three touchdown victory to advance to their second straight state championship game. If Tanner wants to play for a third consecutive 2A championship, it will have to win at Montgomery Academy tomorrow night.
For the past two seasons, Tanner has hit the road for its quarterfinal and semifinal games to reach the championship. Many of those players are seniors on this year’s squad that have won four consecutive road playoff games.
“The guys, they don’t mind getting on the bus and traveling,” said Tanner head coach Laron White. “We’re used to that. The planning side becomes a headache. That’s the only bad thing about traveling.”
The last time Tanner lost a road playoff game was a third round game at Reeltown in 2010. The Rattlers have not lost a home playoff game since 2008, but came close last week against North Sand Mountain.
Tanner scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to beat the Bison at Rip Swanner Field. The Rattlers trailed 10-6 at halftime before falling behind 17-6 after North Sand Mountain returned the second-half kickoff for a score.
“We’ve been in two or three tough games this year, but never came back like that,” said White. “I just told them to keep on plugging on offense and we made a few adjustments. We’ve got some guys that have been through some battles and that helped.”
Tanner’s defense came up with a fumble recovery, an interception and a fourth-down stop in the second half to shut out the visitor’s offense over the final two quarters.
“Those three seniors on the defensive line — Seth Smith, Baltazar Rubio, Shamaud Baker — they really helped,” said White. “They were able to get some pressure on the quarterback late in the game.”
White credited Hayden Stephens and Ronald Taylor in the backfield along with Chris Townsend in the secondary with playing big roles in Tanner’s comeback Friday.
Townsend picked off a pass midway through the fourth quarter. Stephens ran for a score and caught a touchdown pass from JonJon Fletcher while Taylor gave Tanner the lead on a 15-yard touchdown run.
The Rattlers will need all their offensive weapons this week against a Montgomery Academy team averaging 45 points per game in its first two playoff games.
“They have a 1-2 punch at quarterback and running back,” said White. “They can beat you in the zone-read. If you pay attention to him (the running back), he will pull it and beat you.”
White said Montgomery Academy’s offense is unlike any Tanner has faced this season.
“They have speed like Madison Academy, but not as big and strong,” he said. “They give it to those two (quarterback and running back) and they have a wide receiver who can make plays.”
Montgomery Academy and Tanner kickoff from McLemore Field in Montgomery at 7 p.m. Friday.