John Hale slammed against the Rockwood defense all night searching for daylight.
He finally saw the light when Boyd-Buchanan needed it most.
With the No. 2-ranked Buccaneers trailing by three points late in the fourth quarter of their Class 2A state playoff game, Hale gave them their first lead when he returned a kickoff 86 yards.
Hale's score capped a second-half comeback as the Bucs held off Rockwood, 17-13, at David L. Boyd Field.
"Athletes respond and he made a couple moves," Bucs coach Grant Reynolds said f the junior running back's return up the home team's sideline. "Give credit to the other 10 kids out there blocking for him."
Boyd-Buchanan (10-1) will host Friendship Christian, an upset winner over top-ranked Trousdale County, next Friday.
The Tigers (7-5), who have been knocked out of the postseason by the Bucs two of the last three years, dominated the first half with their power running attack. Rockwood took a 10-0 lead to halftime on a Tyler Skidmore 12-yard touchdown and a 24-yard field goal by Hayden Freels.
They also held the Bucs' sluggish offense to 75 first-half yards. Leading rusher Chase Reed was limited to 4 yards on two carries before the break. Three Bucs drives into Tigers territory ended on a dropped pass, a batted-down pass and an interception.
But the third quarter was a different story thanks to cornerback Kyle Thomas and the Bucs defense. Thomas set the tone on special teams when he blasted the Tigers' punt returner, jarring the ball loose. Andrew Peace recovered the fumble, which led to a Reed 23-yard field goal with 6:14 left in the third quarter.
A Thomas interception gave the Bucs the ball back three plays later at the Rockwood 32-yard line.
"Kyle had a great game," Reynolds said. "Kyle sparked us with that big hit, and the defense really stepped up."
Facing fourth down at the 17, quarterback Jim Cardwell stepped up in the pocket and connected with tight end Austin Hall. Hall reached high to snare the pass, endured a vicious hit at the goal line and fell into the end zone. Reed's extra point tied the score at 10.
"They were playing Cover 2 and I split the safety," Hall said. "Jim made a great throw."
In a span of under seven minutes, Rockwood went from imposing its will to trying to atoning for its mistakes.
"I thought we played flawlessly in the first half," Rockwood coach John Webb said. "We gave them too much in the third quarter. [Turnovers are] always devastating, and we've got to do a better job."
Rockwood would soon rally. The Tigers opened their bag of tricks on a 12-play drive in the fourth quarter, which resulted in a 13-10 lead on Freels' 20-yard field goal.
The Tigers converted a fourth-and-1 on their own 40-yard line on a direct snap to fullback Everett Campbell. Campbell plunged ahead for 3 yards while quarterback Matt Cofer ran to the sideline with his hands in the air.
H-back Drake Long moved the Tigers to the 1 after he zigged and zagged for 53 yards on a fake reverse. But the Tigers were penalized on first down for a false start and had to settle for a field goal when the Bucs defense stiffened.
Rockwood elected short kickoffs most of the game, trying to keep the ball out of the hands of Hale and Reed. Webb chose to kick to Hale instead of possibly giving the Bucs good field possession with 3:50 left in the game.
"Everybody did their assignment," Hale said. "I thought they were going to keep squib kicking. I was actually glad they kicked it to me. It turned out worse for them."
Hale finished with 10 carries for 35 yards. Reed rushed 11 times for 43 yards. Cardwell was 7-of-16 passing for 58 yards and one interception.
Contact Tim Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6273.