DECATUR, Tenn. — With 2 yards separating Meigs County from a trip to the Class 2A state championship game in Cookeville, a battle was won by the Tigers' defense.
Junior middle linebacker Hagan Lowe broke through the right side of Trousdale County's offensive line to make a tackle never to be forgotten. Halting a 2-point-conversion rush with 1:52 remaining, the Tigers went on to secure a 22-20 semifinal victory at Jewell Field on Friday night.
"I saw their running back go into the gun, and I knew they were coming that way. I just had to get my way in there and make the tackle for my team," Lowe said after helping beat the team that defeated Meigs last year in the semifinals. "To make it to Cookeville means everything. We made the plays and will have to continue to stop the run next week to give ourselves a chance to win it all."
Meigs County (13-1) will face Peabody (14-0) in the 2A championship game at noon EST on Saturday, Dec. 7, at Tennessee Tech.
After a scoreless first half in which Meigs Mr. Football finalist Aaron Swafford could not find rhythm with his offense, the senior quarterback put on a closing performance that enhanced his already mountain-tall legacy.
Held to 26 yards in the first half, the Naval Academy-committed player rushed for 52 yards and completed all four of his second-half passes while accounting for three touchdowns.
Swafford had a Tim Tebow-like moment on what turned out to be the winning drive as he pushed a line of defenders out of his way. Soon after, he followed what he calls "the best offensive line in 2A" for his second 2-point run to build a 22-14 lead with 5:15 left.
"We worked so hard for the last four years, and this is a result of it all," said Swafford, who has 41 touchdowns (29 rushing) and nearly 3,200 total yards (2,060 rushing) this season. "This is crazy. We have come up short before, but the community showed out, and I have not experienced much better things in my life than what happened tonight. We have one more to go, and I will help us do whatever it takes."
Helping set up the winning eight-point drive was sophomore Cameron Huckabey. The Tigers' leading receiver this season came up with the biggest moment of his career in a tie game. With great protection in the pocket, Swafford had time to launch a deep pass that Huckabey skied over two defenders to catch. Three plays later his team took the lead for good.
"I saw the ball in the air and I had to come down with it — whatever it took," said Huckabey, who has six touchdown catches this season in a run-heavy offense. "We have made it this far because of the great leaders we have on this team. We want that trophy really bad. We have dreamed about it for a while."
After Trousdale (11-2) sucked some life out of the crowd with Cameron Rankins breaking free for a 48-yard opening score down the right sideline, Meigs County threw the bigger punches in the second half.
The Tigers received a pair of clutch catches from Gabriel Maldonado on their first scoring drive, which was capped with his 20-yard post-route reception.
Coming out on top of a small-town, hit-you-in-the-mouth football thriller, Meigs coach Jason Fitzgerald raised his arms in celebration.
"My coaches, my players, my family, this community — I was thinking about them all in those last few seconds," Fitzgerald said. "I also thought about what it was like six years ago when we got here. Now, to play for a state championship is amazing. So much goes into it. This is a great small town that bleeds orange and black."