LEBANON, Tenn. - For more than 23 minutes of the first half, Boyd-Buchanan stood toe-to-toe with defending Class 2A state champion Friendship Christian. But the last 55 seconds before halftime were disastrous, likely costing the Buccaneers any chance of victory.
They lost 27-6.
In that closing minute of the second quarter, the Commanders -- already ahead 14-6 -- took advantage of a short punt to drive 55 yards and score a touchdown on the final play of the half. Not only did the hosts then have a two-score cushion, but the heart of Boyd-Buchanan's team, junior quarterback and free safety Jim Cardwell, had his left ankle rolled and didn't recover enough to be effective.
With the gimpy ankle that Bucs coach Grant Reynolds said was "likely broken," Cardwell did not play on defense in the second half and the Bucs were unable to run the zone read that had been successful in the first half. After averaging 6 yards on first down in the first half, the Bucs' offense was stagnant with a hobbled Cardwell.
"That last minute absolutely killed us," Reynolds said afterward. "We had played pretty well up until then, and when they took it down the field, that late touchdown really hurt.
"Then not having Jim healthy in the second half, we just never were the same. He makes us go. He's a warrior and tried to gut it out, and I wasn't about to take him out of that game, but we couldn't really get much going in the second half."
Cardwell rushed for 57 yards in the first half but gained zero on two attempts afterward. And the Commanders took advantage of a backup safety to put the game away with a 31-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.
The loss leaves the Chattanooga area without a team playing for a TSSAA state title for the first time since 2008.
Playing their third straight road playoff game, the Bucs answered Friendship Christian's opening scoring drive with a gutsy drive of their own, converting second-and-33 and later a fourth-and-4 before Rance Harden scored on a 2-yard run to close within 7-6.
The Commanders expanded the lead with another touchdown just 2:56 before halftime. Then after holding Boyd-Buchanan short of a first down near midfield, they were set up in nice field position after a 17-yard punt.
Friendship Christian took advantage of the opportunity, covering the 55 yards in seven plays, with quarterback A.J. Long showcasing why he is a Mr. Football finalist. The junior, who was all-state in Pennsylvania before transferring to Friendship Christian when he moved in with his mother and stepfather last summer, converted one third down, then rifled a bullet 20-yard pass to the Bucs' 1 with four seconds remaining.
After a timeout, Long was stopped short of the goal line but broke free for the back-breaking TD.
"We knew we had to get it in the end zone right there to really put them back on their heels," Long said. "They're a great team and we knew that any chance we had to put them away, we had to take it. That last minute was really big for us."