Updated with more information at 6 p.m. on Dec. 7, 2019.
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. — Meigs County football coach Jason Fitzgerald embraced seniors Montana Lowe and Gabriel Maldonado soon after the team's 27-16 loss to Peabody in the TSSAA Class 2A BlueCross Bowl on Saturday afternoon at Tennessee Tech.
Although the Tigers fell short of winning the program's first state championship, they finished off a season in which the impact of every role player was crucial.
"You have Maldonado, Montana, (Jackson) Fritts, Gage (Gardner) and so many other guys who were important to our success and being here today," Fitzgerald said. "Aaron (Swafford) is our leader, but he will tell you, too — it was his teammates who helped us get this far.
"This senior class' legacy is vast. The support we have had from our fans has been great all year. Man, did you see the support we had today! I hope they are proud of this football team and all they did this year."
Peabody finished 15-0 to win its second straight state title, having beaten Trousdale County 17-9 in last year's final, and the Golden Tide scored first Saturday when Jarel Dickson ran 2 yards to the end zone a little more than three minutes into the game.
Meigs County (13-2), making its third appearance in a title game, was in the driver's seat headed into halftime, though, after a quarterback hurry by sophomore Da'quan Tatum got things started. Tatum chased Class 2A Mr. Football winner Cooper Baugus to the Meigs County sideline as the southpaw tried to make a tough throw back to the line, where defensive lineman Lowe picked off the pass.
"I love the family that we have," Lowe said. "We are all brothers. We have loved playing with each other this season. We went out there for our town, who we love and thank for all the support they showed us this season."
The turnover turned into points as Swafford showed patience before bursting through the left side of his line for a 14-yard touchdown run. The senior quarterback, a three-time Mr. Football finalist who is committed to Navy, also would not be denied as he stretched out for a 2-point conversion for an 8-7 lead with 16 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Tide missed an opportunity to regain the lead when a 28-yard field-goal attempt went wide left, which set up Swafford to engineer an eight-play, 80-yard scoring drive.
Logan Carroll broke free down the middle and earned big yards after the catch for a 40-yard gain that was followed by Swafford breaking tackles down the left sideline on a 19-yard touchdown run. It was his 43rd and final touchdown (31 rushing, 12 passing) this year.
Beating defenders around the left end again, Swafford added another 2-point conversion as the Tigers went ahead 16-7 with 2:18 left in the half.
"I feel like we had more heart in the first half," said Swafford, who rushed for 2,104 yards this season. "We prepared for them well and came out and played our football in the first half. Unfortunately, they made some really good halftime adjustments and took the life out of us."
Maldonado intercepted an overthrown pass before intermission, and with the Tigers set to receive the second-half kickoff, they went into the break confident and cheered on by a massive turnout from their Decatur faithful.
Peabody wasn't done, though. The quarterback pressure provided by Allen Jones limited Meigs County in the second half, and once the Tide's offense was rolling it could not be stopped. Dickson finished with 155 rushing yards on 22 carries on his way to being named the game's MVP.
Baugus made up for his two first-half turnovers with two scoring runs — a 29-yard touchdown in the third quarter to cut the Tigers' lead to two points and a 5-yarder up the middle with 1:32 remaining in the fourth that was the final touchdown. The Tide went ahead on Jacquez Wilkins' 5-yard touchdown run with 3:30 left in the third.
Maldonado accounted for 37 of Meigs County's 30 net yards in the second half with a third-and-long leaping catch at the right sideline late in the third quarter. With the Tigers trailing 20-16, their promising possession was halted as Jones had his second sack of the series.
Peabody's offense had a 15-play drive end on the Meigs County 4-yard line with 3:11 to go, but its defense did not budge the next four plays. That ended the Tigers' run, but their memories of this year will last.
"I tried to do everything I could for this team and my brothers," said Maldonado, who was the team's primary punter and also played defensive back and wide receiver. "We wanted a ring and came up just a little bit short. Our fans mean the world to us."
Maldonado finished with 10 tackles. Swafford had a game-high 12 stops, was 2-of-12 passing for 77 yards and rushed for 57 yards on 22 carries.
Meigs County was playing for a state title for the first time since 1995, when it lost 30-13 to Goodpasture in the 2A game. The Tigers lost 20-6 to Lake County in the Class A title game in 1980.
After embracing his quarterback one more time, Fitzgerald had no doubts regarding the potential for the members of this senior class even if they never play another football game.
"Aaron and these guys can go on and be successful in life," the coach said. "I am as proud as I can be of these players, administration and our community. Our guys did not get wide-eyed today and left it all out there."