By Bill Sorrell
Hours after his cast coming off, Arlington linebacker Dylan Keith had a coming out party on the field, scoring his first touchdown of the season.
When Arlington linebacker Jake Golday blocked a punt by Collierville’s Hudson Hollenbeck on the fourth play of the game at the Dragons 46-yard line, Keith recovered and ran for a touchdown.
The Tigers took a 7-0 lead after Conner Ford’s extra point and withstood a last-gasp threat by Collierville to win their first Region 7-6A game of the season, 21-14, on Senior Night at Arlington on Friday.
It was Arlington’s first Senior Night victory in four years.
A steady rain hampered both quarterbacks’ passing, both teams’ kicking game and weather or not, it became a battle of who would make the fewest turnovers.
“It was back and forth. I told the guys going in I imagine it is going to be that way and I said before the game the team with the least amount of turnovers was probably gong to win,” said Arlington head coach Adam Sykes.
Collierville head coach Joe Rocconi said, “We can’t blame the weather because they played in it too. Turnovers were the difference. We had plenty of opportunities. They blocked one of our punts early and we blocked two of theirs. They had a bad snap, we recovered and got no points.”
The bad snap occurred early in the third quarter with Ford in punt formation. He fell on the ball at the Arlington 29. A 15-yard run by Collierville quarterback Mitch Austin got a first down at the 15.
Arlington defensive back Cyrus Sin-Berry broke up a pass from Austin to John Hampton and two plays later Keith tackled Austin for a 3-yard loss forcing fourth and 8.
Collierville place kicker Caleb Myers’ 30 yard field goal was wide left with 8:34 left in the third.
The Dragons were driving later in the third when they fumbled and Keith recovered on his 35-yard line.
The Dragons did score after Donovan Mathena blocked Ford’s punt on the Tigers 26 in the first quarter. Three plays later Austin threw a 1-yard pass to Nolan Adams and Myers’ extra point tied the game at 7 with 15 seconds left.
Collierville tied the game at 14 after Ethan Hassler intercepted quarterback Zach Baker pass at his 48 that led to a 4-yard touchdown run by Austin with 47 seconds left in the second quarter. Myers’ PAT was good.
The Tigers got turnover points in the fourth quarter when Sin-Berry returned an interception 45 yards to Dragons 45. That led to a 1-yard touchdown run by Baker and a 21-14 lead after Ford’s PAT with 2:12 left.
The game was redemption for the Tigers (6-2, 1-2 in region) who lost to Bartlett 42-0 Oct. 11.
“The win over Collierville proved that we are still a good team and we can play with anyone in the city,” said Arlington linebacker Cannon Linebaugh.
Arlington closes the regular season with a region game at Cordova (3-6, 0-3) at 7 p.m. this Friday. Collierville (4-5, 1-2) hosts region-foe Bartlett (6-3, 2-1) at 7 p.m. this Friday.
“He (Sykes) told us this is what he has been waiting for nine weeks to see. It’s the best he has seen us play. He is extremely happy with the seniors getting a win on Senior Night,” said Keith.
Baker said, “We were the underdogs. We knew that we had no pressure. I feel like rain was an equalizer and the team with less turnovers was going to win. We were fortunate enough to not have as many turnovers. We played smart, ran the ball. It was definitely a team win.”
Calling the game “an emotional roller coaster,” Sykes said “two good teams were fighting to the end. I told our guys after the game, they had a couple of chances they could have broken and they just bent on defense, forced a field goal they missed and had a big stop. That is huge. Our offense did just enough to move the ball to get some points.”
Collierville running back Duple Travillion, who had a team-high 20 rushing yards, felt “horrible” after the game.
“We had countless opportunities to capitalize on turnovers. All I thought was we should’ve won,” he said.
Austin echoed him. “We had a lot of opportunities to win, we just didn’t execute.”
The rain game practically benched the passing game. Austin completed 8 of 22 passes for 76 yards while Baker was 5 of 11 for 31 yards.
“Their quarterback (Austin) is a really good player. They can do some things with him throwing the ball. We knew they are a little more dangerous with him doing that. Whether it (rain) benefited one team or hurt one team, I guess that is something anybody can give their opinion on,” said Sykes, whose team out-rushed the Dragons 167-73.
“We have a good run defense. I knew we would be able to stop the run. Defense turned the game around. We set the tone every possession. We got big stops whenever we needed them. The offense capitalized,” said Keith.
Golday, who led the team in tackles with nine (six solos, three assists), said, “They were forced to pass in the rain.”
Collierville had 149 yards total offense, Arlington 198.
Mitchell Faulkner sparked the Tigers with 103 rushing yards on 25 carries. Baker rushed for 65 yards.
“Mitchell had a big game offensively and defensively (He had seven tackles including three solos). Mitchell’s runs is what was working for us. We kept getting first downs over and over again with the same running play. Mitchell and Zach both had big games on the ground. They played a big part of our win tonight. We all played a big part, said Keith. “I’ve never seen Zach step up like he did tonight. He led the offense as well as I’ve seen any quarterback in college do it.”
Said Baker, “It was one of my best games. Stats are not going to show that. You had to be there to see the true meaning of what we did tonight. I definitely was able to do it (run) because my O line did a great job. Mitchell did an excellent job. Everybody played as a team and we all executed very well.”
Calling Faulkner “a warrior”, Sykes said “he was getting beat up all night. I told him and Zach going in we are going to have to run the ball and it’s basically going to be them. Zach did a good job of protecting it for the most part and running it. Mitchell had a couple of runs especially on the last drive for the touchdown that he broke two or three tackles, got an extra 10 or 12 yards and put us inside the 10-yard line. That is him being a senior and wanting to win that game.
“Zach has come a long way too. He is getting thrown into the starting role this year in really only his first year playing in the quarterback position. He is starting in big-time football.” Baker was backup last season.
Linebaugh said, “Zach did well. He managed the blocks well, ran hard and held onto the ball. Mitchell ran the ball very hard and is a big body (5-8, 202) that is hard to tackle.”
Austin and Jaden Spencer each rushed for 19 yards, LaDarin Brown 14 for Collierville.
For Keith, a junior who had played backup quarterback this season and had surgery after tearing a ligament in his right thumb against Kingsbury Sept. 6, getting his cast off after five weeks helped him feel “great” after the game.
“I haven’t gotten a lot of touches on offense. I’m ready. I know we can steamroll next week. We can get this W,” he said.
Sykes said that Keith has progressed.
“He got thrust in a starting role a little bit last year as a sophomore because of injuries. The jump he has made between his sophomore and junior year is really good. He goes hard every play. He is becoming a leader, that is what I care about a lot. He loves playing football.”
Linebaugh said, “Dylan plays aggressive on both sides of the ball, is a great athlete and plays a huge key to our offense and defense.”
In the first quarter, Faulkner had a run of 14 yards the longest of the quarter. He got another first down run with a 7-yard gain with 6:46 left to help set up the Tigers’ 14-7 lead.
An 8-yard touchdown run by Baker and a PAT by Ford with 5:04 left in the second capped a 31-yard drive after Hollenbeck’s 19-yard punt.
An onside kick by Ford was recovered by the Tigers at their 45. Golday had a big block to help secure the ball.
At the Arlington 45, Hassler’s interception led to a 55-yard scoring drive. Austin had a 10-yard gain and later threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Smith.
After Keith recovered a fumble at his 45, Faulkner ran 22 yards for a first down at the Dragons 31 from his 47. On fourth down an incomplete pass ended the drive.
Three plays after the Dragons got the ball, Austin thew an interception that Sin-Berry grabbed at his 10.
“I thought I was going to drop it. It hit my helmet.” said Sin-Berry of his longest interception this year. “That changed the whole game.”
An 11-yard run by Baker, a 13-yard run by Faulkner, a pass interference penalty on Collierville fueled Arlington’s winning touchdown drive.
The Dragons were not finished. Austin threw a 30-yard bomb to Smith who got a first down at the Tigers 30. He then hit Tavillion with a 5-yard pass.
“I was telling my teammates let’s find a way to score, then win this game in overtime,” said Austin.
Faulkner broke up Austin’s pass to Scottie Alexander at the 13. The Dragons were on the Tigers 25 but a pass interference penalty on the Dragons got Collierville a first down at the 13. Jake Golday broke up a pass at the 1 yard line and Austin’s pass to Jay Cole was broken up by Braxton Tompkins also at the 1. Austin’s final pass to Alexander with 20 seconds left went incomplete. Sin-Berry defended.
“I saw him run his route. He was about to drop the pass. I didn’t want to touch him where it was going to be pass interference,” said Sin-Berry, who moved to Arlington from California after his father was relocated with Olympus.
A San Francisco 49ers fan, Sin-Berry, who played at Santa Clara High School, has watched their defense, especially their corner backs and safeties and has tried to play like them.
Rocconi said that Austin threw “really well in this weather. At the end we had two drops unfortunately.”
Rocconi took the blame for the fourth quarter interception.
“We tried to throw it to the wide side of the field against the wind and it couldn’t get enough on it,” he said.
Travilion said that Austin, who is very mobile, played composed.
“He took care of the ball and limited a lot of turnovers.”
Baker said “Mitch is an excellent quarterback. He is extremely athletic. He can get out of the pocket and is very good at making people miss. He is very good at keeping his eyes downhill. I feel like the defense did an excellent job containing him.”
Baker felt “100” times better after the Collierville game than he did after Bartlett. They did not watch the game film and made a decision to move forward and “we had a big win.”
Said Linebaugh, “I think sometimes we don’t come out 100 percent and after the other team gets up it just spirals down from there. To the other side of things sometimes we come out and play to our responsibility and we blow out teams like we should.”
The Bartlett game was “very emotional” said Sykes. He was disappointed that his team did not respond and give themselves a chance to win after giving the defense a short field and the offense throwing interceptions.
“We weren’t ready to play and I take responsibility for that. Those kind of weeks are never fun but when you have these kind of games it makes it extra special for those kids who can back back after a game like we had and a win one like this,” said Sykes.
“I’m proud of them. They had several chances where they could’ve folded the tent and give up a touchdown, not made a tackle here, not made a pick there but they kept fighting. The defense had their backs against the wall a couple of times and made big stops. The offense would move the ball a little bit then get a penalty and back up or we would have a negative play. When it was time to make a play on that last drive, the offense marched down the field.
“Our defensive line got some pressures and disrupted a couple of things. We had to move some guys around that last drive. Like a lot of teams at this time of year you look up and you wouldn’t think that some guys would be playing much on a Friday night but they are out there starting in 6A football in Week 9. A lot of guys made plays at different positions they aren’t accustomed to playing.
“I told them before the game there are going to be plays that are going to be made on both sides of the ball. What are going to do when they make a play? Are they going to wilt and let them score or is somebody going to step up and get a big stop?
“I trust Coach (Craig) Salley our defensive coordinator. He has those guys ready to play every single week and they enjoy playing for him. Defensively I let him do what he needs to do. We have to have somebody step us and make a big play and I thought we had a couple of guys do that.”
One was Golday, who is a 6-4 junior.
“Jake is one of our most consistent players especially defensively. We put him in an offensive role too. He is a good football player. He is smart. He knows what to do. He loves playing football as well. That is the kind of kid you love having on our team, guys who love playing the game. They want to win and make the guys around them better,” said Sykes.
Golday’s blocked punt, his first this season, was a great way to start the game he said.
“It got good momentum for the team. The win boosted our morale. We were expected to loose,” said Goldday, who along with the blocked punt and onside kick block, assisted on a fumble recovery and tackles for loss.
Travillion said the Dragons, who have won close games which have “toughened” them, did not finish against Arlington.
“We are going to have to play all four quarters. We weren’t ready as a team mentally. We were never fully engaged. We need to focus and be better prepared. Our games mirror our practices.”
Austin thought the Tigers wanted it more.
“This is a hard loss. This is a make or break week. Bartlett is a very good team. If we get a win we will have a lot of momentum going into playoffs. I treat every game like it is my last and the same thing in practice. If I’m not 100 percent on something in practice, I’ll stay after to make sure I am 100 percent confident and I’ll be prepared for the game.”
He said that Smith, who led Collierville receivers with 69 yards, played well and that Jared Dawson was “awesome on defense.”
Dawson made 14 tackles including 6 solos, 3 solo tackles for loss. Jaden Malone made 11 tackles, Christian Flynn 6, Mathena 6, Hassler 6, Eli Eubanks 5, Davinci Floyd 5 with a sack, Mario Sanders 5, Alston Elam 5.
Austin, who respects Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, described the season as a roller coaster. He is aware it has been that way throughout Hurts’ career that included starting at Alabama.
“He’s been the best at battling adversity and keeps working. No one stops him. He is truly a great player,” said Austin.
Rocconi, who said that he was “embarrassed after the Arlington loss, wants to have his team focused for Bartlett.
“I feel like we let a big one slide. I told them that opportunities are winding down. This is game No. 9. We are not going to get many (more) opportunities. We have to get ready not just for the next game but have to focus on getting better as a program.”
Sykes empathized with Rocconi.
“I’ve been in that position too where when you think guys are going to make a play and don’t. Football is a game of plays and one or two or three might determine the outcome of the whole game out of a course of 150 or 160. You have got to hope your guys are prepared enough and execute to make those plays when the time counts and luckily we had some guys step up and did that.”
Golday praised Faulkner and Baker for their offensive play and Tompkins, Linebaugh and Sin-Berry on defense. “The whole team did their job well.”
Jack Myers, Jalan Thomas, Issac Jordan are the main players on Arlington’s 3-man front defense.
Baker was trying to calm his team down after the blocked punts.
“Every time that happens your mentality has got to be it happened, it’s over and done and go on to the next play, get a stop, get the ball back and score again,” he said.
Sykes said, “It’s frustrating because you practice those things every single day but they must have seen something on the film they thought they could attack. We saw something on film we thought we could attack. There is a lot of watching film to see what you can do. The kids have to execute. You have to keep practicing and learn from mistakes.”
He told the Tigers to enjoy the victory. The win assured Arlington of a winning record.
“It’s always great to have a winning season, especially after a losing one (5-6) last year,” said Golday.
The goal for the Tigers is going 1-0 each week said Baker.
“We can do anything as long as we stick together. We can accomplish anything on this earth. I trust these guys with my life. I have complete faith in them. I never doubt them. I know if we are all on the same page we shouldn’t have anything to worry about it.”
Said Sykes, “I’m proud for the seniors. They can go out their Senior Night on their field as a winner.”