Both the Tyner Rams and Central Purple Pounders came into Friday night's District 6-AA battle at a crossroads in their respective seasons.
"Whoever lost tonight was really going to be behind the 8-ball," was the way Tyner coach Wayne Turner put it.
Both squads had been picked to challenge for the 6-AA title in the preseason, and both struggled to live up to that expectation through the first half of the season. It was the Rams, though, that found their direction Friday, turning in a dominating second-half performance to win 35-10 and drop the Pounders to 0-3 in league play.
"We put our backs against the wall, and it's time to start shoveling our way out. Each week is a playoff game for us, and we need to show some urgency," Turner said after the win. "This group has got to learn to take a pat on the back and go with it and get better. We got that pat last week, but we didn't play very well at all tonight.
"If we had played a good team, I'm afraid to think what the score might have been."
The Rams (2-4, 1-1) sleepwalked through a first half in which the teams combined for 199 total yards, but a big play by their big-play man Willie Stewart shifted all the momentum to the Tyner sideline. With the score knotted at 7, Stewart came in unabated on Centrals quarterback Scout Morgan, but instead of nailing him for a loss, he stripped Morgan clean as he cocked to fire a pass and went untouched for 71 yards to send Tyner to a 14-7 lead just 1:47 before halftime.
"Most kids would have taken the big hit, but Willie is a smart one. He did that last week on a screen pass, too, that got us going," Turner said. "We have to stop relying on a big play to get us going, though."
The Rams took care of business in the second half, scoring three times and limiting the Pounders to minus-29 yards rushing in the half. In fact, of Central's 95 total yards 39 came on a fake punt and 29 came on a fourth-down pass.
"Once we put them in a position where they had to pass, we were in good position," Turner said. "Our defense played better the second half, but we still aren't anywhere close to where we need to be at this point of a season."
Thanks to big plays from Stewart, who also had a 67-yard halfback pass to CJ Ryals for a score, the Rams are at least still in contention for a playoff berth. Central, on the other hand, has no margin for error with league games left against Brainerd, Howard and Hixson.
Haasan Miller led Tyner with 57 yards and a score on 11 carries, and Drakkel Parker used his three carries to cover 52 yards for the Rams' final score. Sadik Spence had four catches for 48 yards. For Central, Ja'Quarius Cole had a blocked punt and a fumble recovery and Caleb Morgan had a sack.
Contact James Beach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.