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Third quarter stand key for Straughn win

Straughn’s offense piled up 428 yards in the Tigers’ 35-19 first-round playoff victory over Geneva on Friday evening, but it was the defense that may have made the difference.

Straughn (8-3) led 20-13 with 6:29 left in the third quarter and Geneva (4-7) driving. The Panthers faced a first-and-goal from the Straughn 4-yard-line, but the Tigers’ defense came up with a goal-line stand and forced Geneva to turn it over on downs.

“That was huge for us,” said senior linebacker Tanner Lee, who intercepted a pass and also scored a touchdown from the fullback position in Straughn’s win. “That stand shifted momentum back to us and changed the outcome of the game.”

Straughn then marched 96 yards for a touchdown when quarterback Josh Dewrell scored on a 4-yard run with the Tigers facing their own fourth-and-2 conversion. The drive was aided by Eric Samuel’s 77-yard run. Samuel, a junior who missed the first five games of the season with an injury, finished the game with 11 carries for 243 yards. In the second half alone, he had runs of 77, 66 and 55 yards.

“I have to give credit to my offensive line,” Samuel said. “They did a great job of opening things up, and as soon as I saw the hole, I just tried to hit it.”

Geneva came into Friday night with a 4-6 record, but gave the Tigers a tough game. Although the Panthers had been primarily a running team during the regular season, they went to the air early and often against Straughn. Panther quarterback Bradley Horne was 13-of-19 for 210 passing yards and a touchdown, but also threw an interception.

“You’ve got to give Coach (Jeff) Williams a lot of credit,” Straughn coach Trent Taylor said. “We had film on Geneva, but we didn’t really know they could throw it that well. Their quarterback really impressed me tonight.”

Straughn took an early lead when Samuel scored on a 10-yard carry just two minutes into the game. The extra point failed as the Tigers led 6-0.

Geneva’s Tavares McIntyre tied the game on a 5-yard carry with 2:23 left, and the Panthers missed their own extra point.

Dewrell threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Austin Pickrel with 1:21 left in the first, and also ran for a 5-yard touchdown with 11:30 left in the second quarter. Dewrell threw a two-point conversion to Nick Allen after his 5-yard run, to increase Straughn’s lead to 20-6.

Geneva’s Dequanas Tolbert added a 29-yard touchdown run shortly before halftime.

“We felt pretty good at halftime,” Geneva coach Jeff Williams said. “Obviously, not scoring down near the end zone in the third quarter really hurt us. Straughn has a fine football team and you have to Coach Taylor and his staff a lot of credit.”

Williams also lauded Samuel’s second-half performance.

“We felt we had to stack the box on defense, and we missed a few tackles,” he said. “Samuel’s a good running back, and once he broke through that first line of defense we had to go run him down.”

Each team scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter — Lee ran it in from 14 yards out for Straughn, and Horne hooked up for 35-yard pass to Webster Dickens.

After the game, Taylor gave credit to his team’s defensive performance. The Panthers were 0-for-3 on fourth-down conversions.

“Our defense really rose up on several occasions tonight,” he said. “That was the difference in the ball game.”

Senior linebacker Caleb Cochran suffered an ankle sprain during the game, but Taylor said he believed Cochran would be ready to play next Friday.

“Caleb’s a tough kid,” he said.

Dewrell finished the game with 16 carries for 100 yards. For Geneva, Dickens had five receptions for 133 yards.

Straughn will host region foe Bayside Academy next Friday night in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs. During the regular season, the Tigers lost at Bayside Academy, 27-0 — it was Straughn’s only regular season region loss.

Straughn has now won six games in a row. The Tigers’ last defeat was a 20-7 loss to Opp back on Fri., Sept. 25.

“We want to keep this run going as long as we can,” Lee said.