Carver needed a spark, having just fallen behind 22-8 to Cairo (5-2). The Syrupmakers scored on their second play of the third quarter, quieting the Kinnett Stadium crowd and seemingly icing the game before the home team’s band returned to its seats.
This is the point in which having a weapon like Tigers (6-1) running back Khiari McCoy comes in handy.
McCoy, who ran for 299 yards and four touchdowns, scored on the Tigers’ first play of the half, an 80-yard sprint straight through the line. When the Syrupmakers answered to pull ahead by 8, McCoy calmly sprinted another 49 yards — also on the first play of the ensuing drive — to tie the game at 30 apiece.
Carver ultimately won the game 52-46, a win that could signify a changing of the guard in GHSA Region 1-AAAA. This was, by all means, an unofficial championship game between the region’s top two teams.
“(This is) big,” Carver receiver and UCF commit Ja’Cyais Credle said. “Juniors, sophomores, freshmen, we’ve been working since the summer for this moment. We don’t stop the hard work, though, we gon’ keep going.”
But it wasn’t over until well past the fourth quarter.
The Syrupmakers drove into Carver territory with eight seconds remaining and lined up for a game-winning field goal, but the kick struck the crossbar and bounced safely to the turf. The teams traded blows in overtime, and a second overtime, before the Syrupmakers’ final pass fell incomplete in the Tigers end zone.
After the Tigers pulled off a double-digit comeback on Friday night, the region is theirs to lose. And it means the world to a team that waited all season to have a crack at region power Cairo.
Joyner said that, during the offseason, the Tigers’ slogan was “Play to the Standard”: the “standard” being teams like Cairo. The Tigers yelled “Cairo!” during team sprints over the summer. It’s games like Friday night’s that Joyner can use to measure his team, and compare it to programs like those at Cairo or Woodward Academy, the coach said.
“Everything was about trying to play up to Cairo,” Joyner said. “That’s (the level) we’re trying to get ourselves, with the athletes that we have.”
Mere seconds after the pass hit the turf, the Tigers bench stormed the field, aided by the roar of the home crowd. McCoy sprinted toward the end zone and punched a pylon, sending the orange marker flying.
Some Tigers, too exhausted to join in the celebration, simply laid on the turf, taking in the scene, their mood likely much different than the Cairo players who also sat on the turf, seemingly in denial. Joyner received a Gatorade bath.
The road to a region title does not get easier for the Tigers, however. Carver plays Westover High School out of Albany, Georgia, which beat Shaw 27-6, next week. Carver plays Shaw the following week. Westover is 5-1, but lost to Cairo by more than 30 points.
For now, the Tigers won’t care. Friday night’s win marked the first time since 2007 that the Tigers beat Cairo. Carver’s coach back then was Dell McGee, now the running backs coach at Georgia. It’s only the second time in Carver’s history that it’s beaten Cairo.
“The region race is not over with,” Credle said. “We’ve got to keep playing. We’ve got two tough battles coming back. We’ve got to keep working hard.”