Tallulah Academy rolls into MAIS 8-Man championship game

Published 1:24 am Saturday, November 10, 2018

TALLULAH — Tallulah Academy’s 8-Man football dynasty has been built, in large part, on the back of its high-powered offense. It has averaged a touchdown approximately every five plays over the past four seasons.

This time, it was the defense that got the Trojans back to the Promised Land.

Joshua Collins and Carter Sullivan returned interceptions for touchdowns in the first half, and the Trojans allowed 12 yards and one first down on four second-half possessions as they beat Prairie View Academy 52-20 Friday night in the MAIS 8-Man semifinals.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“Our offense has carried us all year. We kept challenging our defense. Our defense has been great all year and we knew they could step up. The defense giving us those two touchdowns in the first half to let us figure everything out was tremendous,” Tallulah coach Annon Etheridge said.

Tallulah (12-0) advanced to the championship game for the fourth time in five years and is seeking its third state title. It will play Manchester Academy on Nov. 17 at 11 a.m. at Jackson Academy.

“It feels great. Coming off of last year, when we lost in the first round, I couldn’t ask for a better team to come back and do this. Everybody’s stepped up. We’ve come together this year and everybody’s playing as a team. It’s just been amazing,” said Collins, a senior quarterback and defensive back who also threw a touchdown pass and ran for 211 yards and three TDs. “That was amazing to be part of those two state championships, but this one feels like I’ve earned this.”

Tallulah won the 8-Man title in 2015 and 2016, and then lost in the first round to eventual state champion Briarfield last season. It has been on a mission to get back on top this year and decimated most of its competition. A 54-46 win over Prairie View in August was the only time an opponent stayed within 25 points.

The rematch was only close for about a quarter.

Collins’ 62-yard interception return and a 29-yard touchdown run put the Trojans ahead 14-6 at the end of the first quarter. They recovered an onside kick — a common tactic in the high-scoring 8-man game — and converted it into an 11-yard TD pass from Collins to Grahm Tweedle.

On the next possession, Tallulah’s defense once again stepped up big. A long pass put Prairie View on the 19-yard line, but on the next play defensive lineman Walker Sullivan deflected a pass right into the hands of his brother Carter. Carter Sullivan returned it 80 yards for a backbreaking touchdown and a 28-6 lead.

“My brother had tipped it off and I caught it. I got a great block from Parker Morgan. It’s awesome, just seeing the open field,” said Carter Sullivan, who also had seven tackles.

Prairie View scored on its next possession, with a 17-yard TD run by quarterback Luke Denman, and stopped Tallulah at the 5-yard line on the final play of the first half. It never got back in the game, though, as Tallulah’s defense took over.

Prairie View (9-2) went three-and-out on its first two second-half possessions while Tallulah scored on its first two. Touchdown runs of 37 and 16 yards by Collins pushed the lead to 40-12 with 1:54 left in the third quarter. A 66-yard TD run by Garrett Paris on the first play of the fourth quarter was the exclamation point.

Paris added a 20-yard TD run later in the fourth quarter and finished with 145 yards and the two TDs on 12 carries.

Prairie View’s final points came on a meaningless 50-yard touchdown run by Cade Murphy with about two minutes left. With a running clock activated by the MAIS’ mercy rule, the ensuing two-point conversion was the final play of the game. A shower of confetti rained down on the Trojans as they walked back to the sideline.

“This is incredible to get back. Last year we went 7-5, had a tough season and lost some close games,” said Etheridge, who is in his second season as Tallulah’s coach. “This year I challenged these guys in the offseason to work their butts off to get back, because this is where we should be. This is where the expectations are every year. We’re 12-0 going there. We get to face a really tough team next week, but I think our guys are up for the challenge.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

email author More by Ernest