Tallulah back in eight-man title game

Published 1:09 am Saturday, November 12, 2016

After a tight first quarter, Tallulah Academy ran away from Collegiate Christian on Friday night.

The Trojans totaled 410 rushing yards and cruised to a 50-8 win in the semfinals of the MAIS eight-man playoffs. Tallulah (11-0) advanced to the championship game for the second year in a row, and will face Franklin Academy next Friday at 10 a.m. at Mississippi College.

“It was closer than the score,” Tallulah coach Joe Coates said. “They played hard. They’re to be commended to get where they are. Not everybody makes the semifinals. They’ve done a good job.”

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In a rush heavy game, the Trojans only passed for six yards on the night. Senior running back Ryan Hodge ran for 263 yards and four of the team’s seven touchdowns. Senior quarterback Luke Fortenberry ran for 66 yards, with one rushing and one passing touchdown and zero turnovers on the night.

“They’re pretty good in the back end. We thought we could get some seams in there and we were able to,” Coates said.

Christian Collegiate (5-6) only had one penalty on the night, but two fumbles in the second half deeply hurt the Bulldogs when Tallulah scored on both turnovers.

The Bulldogs’ only score came late in the first quarter, when a facemask and an offsides penalty against Tallulah set up a 1-yard TD run by quarterback T.J. Cloninger.

“We changed up some things,” Coates said. “We gave them some different looks. They drove right down the first possession, and we adjusted and did a good job.”

Tallulah’s defense held the Bulldogs to 178 total yards. Collegiate Christian wasn’t able to convert on either of their two fourth-down attempts.

“That was the key, getting defensive stops,” running back Josh Collins said.

Just as in the first round of the playoffs, the Trojans were playing a team they had already met in the regular season. In the Sept. 23 matchup Tallulah was victorious in a closer 60-41 game. Playing rematches in the playoff has helped Tallulah know what to expect for each game, and they’ll get one more.

Tallulah beat Franklin in the regular-season finale to win the District 4-E championship, and now must beat the Cougars again to claim their second state title in a row.

“It always helps. When you know what they’re doing going in, it helps you game plan and prepare yourself,” center Carson McKinney said. “It’s a little extra motivation.”

Hodge scored Tallulah’s first touchdown on a 41-yard run with 4:36 left in the first quarter. Cloninger’s touchdown and a two-point conversion tied it at 8, and then Hodge put the Trojans ahead for good on a 17-yard run with 8:19 left in the first half.

Fortenberry’s 1-yard TD run with 43 seconds left to make it 20-8 at halftime.

“We just kept applying the pressure on them and it doesn’t take much space for Ryan Hodge or Josh Collins, either one. If we can get them out in space we’ve got a good chance of going a long way with it,” Coates said.

On the first play of the second half, Hodge broke through the line and ran 58 yards for the score. The next touchdown came on the only successful passing play of the night, covering six yards from Fortenberry to Brice Wood.

With 1:36 left in the third quarter Hodge had his final touchdown of the night on an 82-yard run. Hager Fortenberry finished the scoring with a 14-yard run, and it was off to Mississippi College for the Trojans. They’ll be making their third consecutive appearance in the eight-man title game, having lost in 2014 and winning it last year.

“We can’t take it lightly. We made it, but that’s not our goal,” McKinney said.


Tallulah Academy vs. Franklin Academy

MAIS Eight-Man Championship

Friday, Nov. 18, 10 a.m.

At Mississippi College