By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The quiet demeanor of Bartlett Head Coach Lance Tucker pregame transformed quickly into intensity after the kickoff against the Collierville Dragons.
Throughout Friday night’s Class 6A Quarterfinal showdown at the Bartlett Football Stadium, Tucker was fiery, passionate and focused in guiding his Panthers to a historic moment. After 48 minutes of action, Bartlett was moments away from a 35-7 victory and trip to the State Semifinals next week. Finally Tucker’s face expressed joy and pride for his 2020 Panthers’ latest accomplishment.
“I love these guys so much,” Tucker said. “I told them before we came out, ‘These are my boys.’ They’ll always be my boys and I am super proud. These kids have been through so much over their three or four years in Bartlett. They have overcome a lot and I am super proud of them.”
The Panthers’ road to the State Semifinals started with a 35-27 overtime win over the Houston Mustangs on Nov. 13. Next up was Region rival Dragons. Bartlett has been led by the running of Robert Giaimo all season. The senior running back entered the game nursing a few nicks and bangs.
“It was nothing but fight,” Giaimo said. “It was mostly mental. I could fight through the pain. It’s mostly mental work. That first series, that whole first half, it was straight mental. Even if my body was telling me, ‘You can’t go.’ I could push through it, keep going.”
Taking a minute to find his explosiveness, Giaimo and the Panthers took advantage of a Dragon miscue. Collierville was called for a roughing the kicker penalty on Giaimo punt attempt.
The Panthers drove the ball down the field and Giaimo scored on a 2-yard run to make the score 7-0. Bartlett took that lead into the second quarter.
The scoreboard read 13-0 early in the second period when Giaimo crossed the goal line for the second time on the night. His 6-yard TD run came at the 11:52 mark.
Bartlett’s lead would be 21-0 at the break when Giaimo achieved a hat-trick scoring from 3-yard out. That touchdown at the 1:36 mark of the second quarter marked the end of his night.
“You’ve got to be ready really,” Giaimo said. “That’s how the game goes. That’s how the game goes you have to be ready because any of us could go down. Us working together and us being brothers, I just knew they all would be ready and we would be OK.”
The next man up was DJ Jones. Jones took a swing pass from quarterback Walt Tucker to score on a two-point to make the tally 21-0 at halftime.
“I was ready,” Jones said. “I didn’t want to lose. I just had to be like G-Mo and do what he does. He told me to do it and that’s what I wanted to do.”
It was hard for the Dragons to keep up with Jones in the third quarter as the running back exploded up the middle on several runs. Khyron James scored on a 36-yard touchdown reception early in the third quarter to make the score 28-0 from a pass from William Mathews.
“Everybody has to stay ready like the running back going down, the second team has to go in,” Coach Tucker said. “If a D-lineman goes down, the second team has to go in. We don’t single anybody out, it’s a team win and we’re just proud of them.”
Throughout the night the Panthers’ offense had a balanced attack under the direction of quarterback Mathews. The junior signal caller hit weapons like Khyron James through the air to keep Collierville guessing.
On defense, the Panthers neutralized the Dragons and quarterback Houston Wilhelm.
It was Jones that capped off the scoring for the Panthers with a 42-yard touchdown run with 1:50 left on the clock in the third quarter. Bartlett was ahead 35-0.
The touchdown of the night came courtesy of Dragon running back Jaden Spencer on a 4-yard TD run. Collierville’s 2020 season came to a conclusion and the Panthers advance to play Brentwood at home next Friday night.
Brentwood picked up a 55-34 win over Franklin in the Quarterfinals. Brentwood improved to 10-3 on the season in earning the trip to Bartlett.
Meanwhile the Panthers are focusing on trying to earn a trip to Cookeville for the first weekend in December.
“We’ve been talking about Cookeville for a long time,” Jones said. “We came from the bottom and we’re going all the way to the top.”
Giaimo said he will get his mind ready for the State Semifinal and trying to earn the trip to State.
“It’s a blessing really,” he concluded. “My teammates and I worked really hard to get to this point. We took one week at a time. Right now this journey has been amazing.”