Tallulah Academy caps perfect season with MAIS 8-Man championship

Published 7:52 pm Saturday, November 17, 2018

JACKSON — The last time they won the MAIS 8-Man football championship, the current group of Tallulah Academy Trojans was mostly along for the ride.

This time, they were driving the bus and riding high.

Joshua Collins rushed for 276 yards and five touchdowns, and Hager Fortenberry scored the go-ahead touchdown with 4:27 left in the fourth quarter as the Trojans outlasted Manchester Academy 40-34 on Saturday to win their third state championship in four seasons.

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The gap in that run came last year, when most of this year’s roster was ascending from supporting to starring roles on the team. Adding to the school’s dynasty and getting one that they earned themselves was sweet.

“All of them had said this one would be so much sweeter. They were on those teams a couple of years ago, but not many of them contributed and none of them contributed in the positions that they have this year. This is what they wanted,” Tallulah coach Annon Etheridge said. “They brought it at practice every week. They brought it in the offseason this summer, and it cultivated into a state championship. I couldn’t be prouder of those guys.”

Tallulah (13-0) capped off its second undefeated season in three years and added the 2018 championship banner to its collection alongside ones from 2015 and 2016. It is the first school to win three 8-Man titles since the division was formed in 2009.

It also spoiled Manchester’s (12-1) bid for an undefeated season by winning the closest championship game in the 8-Man division’s brief history. It was the first final decided by one score.

“Undefeated. Thirteen-and-oh. It’s hard to do. They don’t just hand out these trophies,” Etheridge said.

The Trojans had a relatively easy time getting to the championship game — only one of their first 12 games was decided by less than 26 points — but a hard time winning it. They led by at least 12 points on three separate occasions, but never could pull away.

Collins’ 6-yard touchdown run with 6:11 left in the third quarter put Tallulah ahead 32-20. A fumble on its next possession led to a 63-yard TD run by Manchester’s Michael Williams, however, and the Mavericks recovered the ensuing onsides kick and drove in for another touchdown on a 3-yard run by Dylan Dendy.

Parks Poe ran in for the two-point conversion to give Manchester a 34-32 lead with 6:33 remaining in the game. It was the first time this season that Tallulah had trailed in the second half.

Williams finished with 116 rushing yards and two touchdowns for the Mavericks. Poe caught five passes for 118 yards and a touchdown.

“I don’t know why we couldn’t ever put it away. We fumbled one time and I don’t know why we couldn’t ever get it clicking. They were good,” Collins said.

The Trojans, however, did not wilt under the pressure. It took them only four plays and two minutes to get the lead back. Three runs moved the ball to the Manchester 35-yard line, and Fortenberry went up the middle on the next play for a 35-yard touchdown to put them back in front.

“It was amazing. I was running and just worried about, ‘Don’t look back. Don’t get caught. Keep running forward,” Fortenberry said.

Collins ran in the two-point conversion — the Trojans were 2-for-6 on conversion attempts in the game — to make it 40-34.

Fortenberry only had five carries in the game, but totaled 63 yards and a touchdown. Four of his carries came in the fourth quarter, including the touchdown and two for first downs on the final drive of the game. He also had three interceptions on defense.

“Last year in the playoffs he got put out with an injury. I know he was hungry to get back in the playoffs this year and he brought it,” Etheridge said. “When we started handing him the ball and he started eating up some chunk yardage, it was big for us. Manchester was going to key on Josh wherever he went. When (Fortenberry) started getting the ball the gaps started opening up for him and he hit them and didn’t look back.”

Now back in front, Tallulah’s defense sealed the deal. Two running plays by Manchester were stuffed, and on third-and-11 Dendy fumbled in the backfield. Senior defensive end Parker Morgan pounced on the loose football at the Manchester 33 with 3:08 remaining.

“When they got the ball back my first thought was that we might have given them too much time, because they were moving the football pretty well. A couple of our defensive linemen, Marsh Wood was one of them, made some incredible plays right there. They stepped up right there,” Etheridge said.

The Trojans’ offense picked up two first downs to run out the clock and the celebration they’d waited two years for was soon on.

“It’s unimaginable. I’m on Cloud Nine right now. It’s crazy,” Collins said. “It feels amazing. I wanted to do this for every single kid on that team.”

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.

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