Tallulah one step away from title game

Published 8:45 am Wednesday, November 9, 2016

With the first round of the playoffs in the books for the MAIS eight-man division, Tallulah Academy is preparing for its next game in the quest to become champions for the second consecutive year.

The Trojans (10-0) will host Christian Collegiate Academy (5-5) in the semifinals Friday night at 7. It’s a rematch of last year’s championship game, and the winner this time will go on to play for the title at Mississippi College on Nov. 18.

Tallulah has looked strong this season as an undefeated team overpowering its opponents, and coach Joe Coates attributes that dominance to the upperclassmen.

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“We’ve got 12 seniors, which is a lot for eight-man football. Next year we’ll have two seniors. It just goes in cycles. If you’ve got a good group, you’ve got to take advantage of it,” Coates said.

Tallulah lineman Brandon Comans said the team used summer practices to work on its strength and fitness, which is what he credits for its success.

“We had a good summer. We had a good workout program over the summer. We just conditioned hard and practiced hard,” Comans said.

Moving forward, Coates wants to make sure the Trojans work to keep that power and focus for a full game and not let up after gaining a lead. The past two weeks they’ve built large leads at halftime and then allowed some points in the second half. They still managed to win by comfortable margins, but coasting to the finish line is not something Coates wants his team to do.

“Last week we did the same thing,” Coates said after a 62-18 win against Humphreys Academy in the first round last week. “We got up 30 points and we cut our motor off. We talked about it at halftime. We need to continue to play and we did.”

During that game two Tallulah players had to be helped off the field because of injuries. John Curtis Thornton was injured just before halftime, and Raie Garza went down with about seven minutes left in the game.

Garza aggravated a knee injury that had sidelined him for several weeks.

“(Garza) has had a dislocated patella (kneecap). He’s been out a couple of weeks and we tried to get him back in there but it popped out again. I don’t know about him,” Coates said. “I think (Thornton)’s just got a strained hamstring. He should be all right.”

In addition to playing a full four quarters, Coates is also looking for offensive consistency and defensive aggression as the playoffs continue and his team does its best to advance.

Comans said the defense has been practicing throughout the season to shut down opponents’ passing games, and the hard work was apparent against Humphreys. The Rebels had 174 yards and scored twice through the air, but completed just 9 of 22 passes for 199 yards and threw two interceptions. Tallulah also recovered three fumbles.

“We’ve been working all year to really shut down the pass,” Comans said. “When we first started this year we were a little weak, but over the weeks we’ve gotten to where we can just about shut down anybody who passes on us.”

As the playoffs continue, Comans said the team needs to work on preventing turnovers and playing smarter than the opponent.

“We’re working on protecting the ball as best we can, playing sound defense and just outplaying everybody that comes against us,” Comans said.

Christian Collegiate will mark the second consecutive week in which Tallulah has faced a team it saw in the regular season. Tallulah won the first go-round with the Bulldogs, 60-41 on Sept. 23.

Christian Collegiate handed Tallulah its last loss — in the middle of the 2015 season. The Trojans’ current 18-game winning streak includes a 34-25 win over Christian Collegiate in last year’s eight-man championship game.

Tallulah quarterback Luke Fortenberry said playing rematches in the playoffs has been beneficial.

“We learned how to play better as a team. We learned how to execute our plays better. We gained a lot,” he said. “We just can’t get too cocky. We have to go out there like we’ve never played them before.”

Friday, 7 p.m.
MAIS eight-man division semifinals
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