MARION COUNTY 35, AUSTIN-EAST 21
The star: Jacob Saylors ran 17 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns for Marion County. He also interecepted two passes, including a late one sealing the victory.
Up next: Marion County will play in the state final at Cookeville next Saturday at noon EST against Trezevant, which beat Waverly Central 34-26.
JASPER, Tenn. — Friday's TSSAA Class 2A football semifinal at Marion County was almost like the fable about the tortoise and the hare. Only this time the hare won.
Marion County raced to a five-touchdown lead in the first half, leading to a running clock to start the second half. Austin-East, however, mounted a comeback, but time ran out on the Roadrunners and their season and the Warriors came away with a 35-21 victory.
Marion County (13-1) advances to the state-championship game for the third consecutive year. The Warriors will play Trezevant in a rematch of last year's final that the Warriors lost 40-35.
"The kids in that locker room are excited," Marion County coach Joey Mathis said. "I'm happy for this community. The coaching staff couldn't have put together a better game plan."
The Warriors received the opening kickoff and marched 65 yards in 13 running plays. They also had a 79-yard scoring drive on 14 running plays.
At halftime Marion had accumulated 222 yards on the ground on 44 rushes. Meanwhile, Austin-East quarterback Darius Harper, a Coastal Carolina commitment, went 4-for-15 for 80 yards and was intercepted three times. The Warriors led 35-0.
"That was probably as good of a complete half as we've played all year," Mathis said.
The third quarter breezed by with the running clock. Each team had one possession and one first down, and both turned the ball over on downs.
The Roadrunners (12-2) awakened in the fourth and behind Harper made a furious comeback. Twice he completed 30-yard touchdown passes to Kashif Warren, and he also scrambled 5 yards for a TD with 3:53 to play.
Twice they converted fourth downs into firsts on their final possession. But with no timeouts and time evaporating, Austin-East turned it over when Jacob Saylors intercepted a pass, allowing Marion to run out the final 16 seconds.
"We had some young kids in there, and at that point we had a bend-but-don't-break mentality," Mathis said. "We knew they could score in a hurry. We got a little more conservative, but we had such a lead we just backed the defense up and tried to keep everything in front of us."
Saylors, on 17 carries, and Hunter McClain, on 15, each had 84 rushing yards for the Warriors. Mathis said they chose to rest McClain, who's had a nagging shoulder problem, the entire second half.
Harper ended up 19-of-44 for 311 passing yards. Warren's five catches covered 133 yards.
"We were just rattled and weren't ready to play," A-E coach Jeff Phillips said. "At halftime we just talked about not quitting. We were already 35 points down."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6653. Follow him on Twitter at @KelleySmiddie.