By Jonathan Deal
Predicting the outcome of high school football games during the regular season and in the first few rounds of the playoffs is sometimes a guessing a game, but can often be determined by just comparing common opponents.
Once a team reaches the state championship game, all bets are off. There are no common opponents and it’s difficult to know how the teams will fare.
There are always a few teams in the Super Six as clear favorites after steamrolling every opponent on their schedule. Tanner was one of those teams last year and took care of business against Washington County as most thought they would.
This Tanner team does not have the same unbeatable aura and could face a much tougher test in a rematch of last year’s 2A title game.
Here is a look at how the team’s match up entering today’s championship game:
When Tanner runs the ball:
Tanner will lean on senior running back Hayden Stephens, who was the MVP of the 2012 2A title game. Stephens has racked up nearly 2,000 yards this season with 26 touchdowns. Stephens averaged 7.8 yards per carry and often did not play in the fourth quarter.
Complementing Stephens is sophomore Tiquaveious Mayberry, who Tanner head coach Laron White singled out as a player who has stepped up during the Rattlers’ playoff run. Quarterback JonJon Fletcher also presents a running threat as the Bulldogs learned last year. Fletcher has 115 carries for 603 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The Rattlers will be running against a fresh defense that plays only one player on both sides of the ball. Deandra Smith leads the Bulldogs defense with 148 tackles. On the defensive line, Cameron Moss has 7 1/2 sacks this season.
When Tanner throws the ball:
How often Tanner throws the ball will depend on its ability to establish the run. Ideally, the Rattlers would like to throw the ball no more than a dozen times each game.
Fletcher has completed 61 of 101 pass attempts (60 percent) for 1,116 yards, 15 touchdowns and five interceptions.
The Bulldogs like to crowd the line and force teams to pass and today will be no different against a Tanner team that likes to run. Washington County Defensive backs Corey Donaldson and DeAnthony Holcombe each have five interceptions for Washington County.
Advantage: Washington County
When Washington County runs the ball:
The Bulldogs are led by Holcombe, who has rushed for 1,579 yards (7.8 per carry) and 31 touchdowns this season. Complementing Holcombe will be speedster Keyshaun Abston (728 yards, nine touchdowns) and quarterback Kerrigan Pennington who has 644 yards and 11 touchdowns and averages 8.9 yards per carry.
Defensive lineman Baltazar Rubio makes the job for the rest of the Tanner defense much easier by consistently getting into the opponent’s backfield. Rubio is second on the team with 63 tackles behind linebacker Mayberry, who has 74 tackles and three interceptions. Like Washington County, Tanner prides itself in stopping the run and will crowd the line to force the pass.
Advantage: Washington County
When Washington County throws the ball:
Washington County quarterback Kerrigan Pennington has similar numbers to Fletcher. Like Tanner, the Bulldogs would like to keep the ball on the ground. When they do throw, Pennington’s favorite target in the red zone is 6-foot, 3-inch, 238-pound Cedric Chapman. The senior has just 16 receptions all season, but seven have been for touchdowns.
Tanner has been susceptible to the pass at times, but found a way to get enough stops against Montgomery Academy in the quarterfinals to leave with a win. Senior Deshun Freeman led the way with two interceptions during the playoffs and leads the team with six this season.
Intangibles: Tanner has several things going for it entering this game. While they may not be as dominant as last year, these Rattlers have been tested in each of their playoff games and will be ready to respond if they fall behind.
While the Bulldogs are no strangers to the big stage, Tanner’s juniors and seniors have played in the 2A championship game for three consecutive seasons.