By Jonathan Deal
Standing in the near-freezing rain at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tanner head coach Laron White anxiously watched as his defense made one final play to defeat No. 3 Washington County and win its second consecutive Class 2A state football title.
Although it involved many of the same players and came against the same team that top-ranked Tanner defeated in 2012 to the state championship, that’s where the similarities end between the Rattlers’ two title teams.
Tanner entered last year’s Super Six 2A finals as the favorite. The dominant Rattlers shut out teams through the first three rounds of the playoffs, outscoring them 117-0. Undefeated and unchallenged for the most part during a 14-0 campaign, Tanner cruised to its first football championship in 2012.
This year’s team earned everything they got and deserve credit for their response to adversity. After knocking off 3A No. 1 Madison Academy last year, Tanner was handed a rare blowout defeat by the Mustangs, which won its second straight state title on Thursday, to open this season.
“Last year, we had a team that was kinda stacked,” said Tanner head coach Laron White after the game. “This year we had a lot of younger guys that started the season with a blowout loss to Madison Academy. We just got better and better every week.”
After the 48-6 defeat by a team laden with Division I prospects, Tanner went on to win its next eight football games to its fourth consecutive Region 8 championship. That’s when this team really found out who they were.
For the past five weeks of the postseason, Tanner trailed in every game it played. At home in their second round-game against North Sand Mountain, the Rattlers found themselves down 17-6 entering the fourth quarter, only to reel off 21 unanswered points in the final 12 minutes.
On the road against Fyffe and Montgomery Academy, Tanner responded after falling behind in both contests.
On Friday against Washington County, Tanner’s players showed why they are champions with another come-from-behind win.
“This year’s team is resilient, but not perfect,” said White. “We still have not played the perfect game. There were a lot of mistakes here and there, but these guys were just resilient.”
Resilient and motivated.
Although ranked No. 1 entering the season, Tanner’s loss to Madison Academy knocked the Rattlers from atop the 2A poll and had many around the state doubting if they could repeat. The doubters didn’t faze a team with more Super Six appearances than losses — in fact, they used it as fuel for their wild run through the 2A playoffs.
What this group of players has accomplished is nothing short of remarkable. In three state championship appearances in the last three seasons, Tanner has piled up a 41-2 record including 24 straight region wins and three North Division titles.
No player on this Tanner team has ever experienced a loss at Rip Swanner Field, with the Rattlers’ last home defeat coming 2008. While that kind of success would go to some team’s heads, it did just the opposite with this group.
It’s fitting this team won the championship the way they did. The championship victory — in front of hundreds of faithful fans cloaked in ponchos — was a microcosm of Tanner’s season, which couldn’t have started any worse with a lopsided loss on the road.
On Friday, they couldn’t have had a worse start to the game, giving up a touchdown on the opening kickoff. But like they did with another undefeated regular season against 2A opponents and during the previous four playoff games, Tanner methodically worked their way back into the game.
Standing on the rain-soaked and muddy field after another hard-fought victory, Tanner earned the right to hoist the Blue Map for the school’s second football title.