The season-opening showdown between the two Carvers — Columbus and Atlanta — was a shooting star.
It was a slow build with not much offensive action from either squad. One team, the Tigers, appeared in control for nearly the entire contest until the Panthers were driving deep into enemy territory with under 20 seconds remaining in the game and trailing by six.
And just like that, it was over.
Carver-Columbus forced a Carver-Atlanta receiver out of bounds at the 3-yard line as time expired to preserve a 12-6 win on Saturday at the Tri-Cities Labor Day Classic in East Point.
“I just told the defense we needed one stop,” Tigers coach Joe Kegler said. “One big stop, one big play, and we can win the game. Luckily we got it at the end.”
The Tigers had more than a handful of chances to put the game away and were even in victory formation for four plays inside of a minute, 30 seconds to play. Quarterback Jawon Pass knelt to the ground three times, forcing the Panthers to use their timeouts, but the final kneel left 17.6 seconds left on the clock. Carver-Atlanta got a hand on the ensuing punt and got the ball inside the Carver 40-yard line.
Panthers quarterback Kentrell Barber ran once, escaping out of bounds, and completed a pass to give them one final play inside the 25. The final play was a completed pass that was taken to the 3-yard line, where the runner was forced out of bounds as time expired.
“We knew we needed to make a play,” said Carver linebacker Mekhi Brown, who had a handful of quarterback pressures in the game. “We let them stay in the game, so we just needed to step up and finish it off at the end.”
Brown was just one piece of the puzzle on a defense that was mostly stifling for the entire game. Sophomore defensive back Javontay Smith recorded an interception and the Tigers allowed just over 200 yards for the game. They pitched a shutout for three and a half quarters until the Panthers cut into their lead with a 9-yard touchdown run by Barber with seven minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the game.
Barber broke contain from the 9-yard line on third-and-goal, scampered to the right side and into the corner of the end zone.
“The defense played well,” Kegler said. “There were a couple mistakes where we just didn’t execute, but overall they played pretty well. We’ve just got to iron a few things out.”
In the first half, the Tigers played like they were in control of the game, but failed to push it across the goal line on a handful of occasions.
It got early scores from Pass, a 9-yard run, and junior running back Isham Alexander, a 22-yard run, and led the game 12-0 just three seconds into the second quarter.
After a turnover on downs by the Panthers, the Tigers drove the ball all the way to the 5-yard line, but tossed an incomplete pass on fourth down to turn the ball over. On their next possession, they got it as deep as the 18, but a penalty and three incomplete passes ended the threat.
“We have to execute in the small windows,” Kegler said. “It’s like I tell them: We’re working for two weeks. Don’t work for two weeks and not get paid. We’ve got to punch the ball in when we get the chance.”
The Tigers had less than 100 yards in the passing game, struggling to find a rhythm between Pass and his receivers, which were limited by cramps and minor injuries throughout the game. The running game, too, struggled to gain steam in the second half. Alexander rushed for 98 yards in the first half and 106 in the game, but sat out the majority of the second half with an injury.
The Tigers face Spencer next Friday in the annual Heritage Classic game.
Saturday at Tri-Cities
Carver-Atlanta 0 0 0 6—6
Carver-Columbus 6 6 0 0—12
CC-Jawon Pass 9 run (kick blocked); 6:23
CC-Isham Alexander 22 run (pass failed); 11:52
CA-Kentrell Barber 9 run (kick failed); 4:36
Records: Carver-Atlanta, 0-1; Carver-Columbus, 1-0. Next: Carver-Atlanta, Saturday at Washington-Atlanta; Carver-Columbus, Friday vs. Spencer at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium.