Tyner senior Sharkem Wells' sense of urgency was right on time late in Saturday afternoon's game on rain-soaked Eddie Lambert Field, where he ripped the football from the hands of an unsuspecting Brainerd running back.
Wells' forced fumble was recovered by defensive end Jaeden Isbell at the host Panthers' 19-yard line, setting up Tyner quarterback Jamarie Ballard for a tying 14-yard touchdown run around the left end with 1:43 left in the fourth quarter. Ballard then followed key blocks by Christian Keel and Davin Pasley into the end zone for the 2-point conversion and a 14-12 lead that would stand as the final margin after Isaiah Sawyer's victory-sealing interception for the Rams in the final seconds.
For the second straight week, the Rams overcame a second-half deficit to prevail over a longtime rival, and after an 0-3 start to the season, they've posted back-to-back wins to begin Region 3-3A play.
"This was a big win for us, and it helps put us in the driver's seat for the region," said Wells, who is one of just three full-time starters back for Tyner from last season's team, which won the Class 2A state title before moving up in classification and going through a coaching change as offensive coordinator Christian Mainor was promoted to lead the program.
"I saw the ball was loose, and I had to reach in there and rip it out," Wells added. "We were down and facing adversity and had to all believe and not give up."
Tyner at Brainerd football on Sept. 16, 2023
Despite being limited by a sprained ankle, Ballard had a pair of rushing touchdowns for the Rams (2-3), who continue region play next Friday by hosting Sweetwater (2-3, 0-2).
"We had to fight to win this game," Ballard said. "We could have given up at times, but we stayed locked in and believed we could win. It's a blessing to be able to score a game-winner. I had great blocking from my guys up front. We have to step our game up and be better next week for homecoming against Sweetwater."
Eight days after the Rams rushed for 329 yards and rallied for a 27-21 win against Central, finding big gains on the ground was tougher for Tyner against a stout Brainerd defensive front.
The Panthers (1-3, 0-2) led 12-6 with four minutes left in the third quarter as Terrance Lee burned the defense deep for a 51-yard touchdown catch down the left sideline on a perfect strike from Anthony Byrd. It was Byrd's second touchdown pass of the game after also going long early on a 60-yard touchdown pass to Jayun Smith.
Lee finished the game with a pair of interceptions, as he continues to show why he is one of the best defensive backs in the area.
However, it was the Tyner defense that forced three consecutive turnovers on the Panthers' final three possessions to help make the comeback possible. Jaydan Parker sparked the dominant fourth-quarter defense as he jumped a route inside the red zone and returned his interception to near midfield.
"I have been told since I was a kid, a football is an odd-shaped ball and it bounces a bunch of funny and different ways," Mainor said. "I knew at some point it was going to start bouncing our way.
"I am proud of our kids for not mailing it in when things were going against us. Our defense got us the ball back in plus territory and we believed. Sharkem played really well on defense and ran hard between the tackles on offense, too. I was happy with the resiliency we showed for a second straight week. We have to continue to grind it out and pounce on our opportunities when they arrive."
Brainerd, which had a coaching change just before the season and lost versatile star Martels Carter Jr. when he transferred, returns to competition Friday by hosting Marion County (5-0), ranked fifth in the most recent Class 2A poll. After that, the Panthers are on the road for three of the final four games on their schedule.
Contact Patrick MacCoon at email@example.com.