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Haywood falls to Springfield 35-28

By Bill Sorrell
Had Haywood High defeated Springfield in the semifinals of the TSSAA Class 4A playoffs on Friday, there would have been two Memphis schools that could say they beat the team playing for the state championship.
The Tomcats suffered five turnovers in a 35-28 loss at Springfield and missed out on the chance to play Greeneville for the state title this Friday in Cookeville.
Briarcrest and Memphis University School, both Division 2-AAA West teams, gave Haywood (11-3) its only losses of the regular season. Briarcrest won 43-42 on Sept. 8 and MUS 33-14 on Sept. 22. The Tomcats then won seven straight including a 49-21 victory over Crockett County in the quarterfinals in Brownsville on Nov. 17.
Haywood running back Decourtney Reed scored five touchdowns against Crockett in a rematch of the Region 7-4A championship game that Haywood won 63-35 on Oct. 13. A junior, Reed rushed for 192 yards on 17 carries, averaging 11.3 yards per carry, and quarterback Tillman McRae averaging 9.4 yards as he ran for 131 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown. Of Haywood’s 511- yard total offense, 391 came from rushing. Deyondrius Hines gained 61 yards on four carries, a 15.3 average.
A 16-yard touchdown pass from McRae to Brent Moore with 15:2 seconds left in the first half was a difference maker as the Tomcats took a 14-7 lead and then scored on their first possession of the second half, a 46-yard run by Reed to propel Haywood ahead 21-7 with 10:01 left in the third quarter.
“Brent Moore scoring right before the half was huge. Instead of going in 7-7, we went in 14-7, got the ball back at half and scored and made it 21-7 and opened it up. From there we were able to keep widening that margin,” said Haywood Head Coach Steven Hookfin.
The Cavaliers, who rebounded from a 3-7 record last season to finish 10-3, cut the margin to seven when Kerrington Parker scored on an 18-yard run with 7:23 left in the third.
Haywood then scored three straight touchdowns for a 42-14 lead.
Jordan Branch, who had a team-high 108 yards rushing on 18 attempts, pulled the Cavaliers to within 42-21 with a 5-yard touchdown run with 2:23 left in the game.
Twenty seconds later Reed scored Haywood’s last touchdown, a 53-yard run. He scored Haywood’s first touchdown, a 25-yarder with 4:56 left in the second quarter.
Entering the Springfield game, Reed had rushed for 2,000 yards this season with 35 touchdowns. He has been named The Jackson Sun Player of the Week twice.
“Decourtney is outstanding, The one thing that is hard to stop Decourtney, he has so many other weapons around him. If you focus on Decourtney and they (Cavaliers) did early on and he was not having very much running room, we were allowed to make some plays with other guys.
Xavier Walker and Taylor Shields made some big plays in the passing game. Deyondrius Hines scores for us. That makes them start looking at other guys and when they do that, then Decourtney does what he does. It all starts with the offensive line,” said Hookfin.
A senior who overcame a shoulder injury last season, McRae said of Reed, “That boy, I don’t even know what to say about him. He’s incredible. He’s very deadly.”
Said Reed, who is a 5-10 with a 450-pound squat, “I see the field and run hard and run fast, never look back and keep going.”
The win over Crockett came with the same game plan that had netted the Tomcats 11 victories, “Smash mouth, pounding beast mode. We had great execution,” said Reed.
With Hookfin terming McRae “the field general,” McRae completed 6 of 10 passes for 120 yards.
“We played as a team and came out hard. They (Cavaliers) came out a lot harder than they did the last time but we bounced back. They had the momentum at first then we took it away and never gave it back,” said McRae, who had gritty runs that led to first downs.
“We had to have first downs because of the positions. We were third and long, fourth and short,” said McRae.
“Tillman is our field general. He keeps everybody in line and on schedule. He keeps everybody calm,” said Hookfin. “He has got a great demeanor. He never gets too excited or gets too down. He is a good leader.”
Crockett coach Kevin Ward praised his quarterback Jacob Fitzhugh who completed 11 of 15 passes for 121 yards and rushed for 33 yards on 14 carries.
“He is probably one of the best quarterbacks that has ever played here. He has rushed for over 1,000 yards and thrown for over 1,000 yards this season. He had a phenomenal year,” said Ward.
A senior, Fitzhugh passed for 1,414 yards completing 84 of 115 passes for 14 touchdowns with only two interceptions. He rushed for 1,194 yards on 168 carries and scored 11 touchdowns. He was The Jackson Sun Player of the Week for the sixth week of the season against Lexington.
The Cavaliers averaged more than 40 points a game. Branch scored 27 touchdowns and gained 1,031 yards on 163 carries.
Jordan Manny had been Fitzhugh’s go-to receiver all season, catching 26 passes for 442 yards (17-yard average) and two touchdowns. He caught four passes against Haywood for 48 yards. Demaurie Williams got a 24-yard pass, the Cavs’ longest against the Tomcats. Eli Myrick caught three passes for 28 yards and Parker two for 13 yards. Parker also rushed for 29 yards. Manny had 55 yards in three kickoff returns.
Fitzhugh’s last game stung.
“It means everything growing up with half the guys on the football team. Not everything went our way tonight but it was an awesome season. We didn’t come out in the second half and execute like we should have. Everything was in their favor. We made mistakes that didn’t need to happen,” said Fitzhugh. “We were looking forward to the semifinals. That is what the mindset was, let’s get past this game and make it there. We just have to move forward.”
Talking with Bethel University and Harding University, Fitzhugh said that his team will have to “move forward.”
Fitzhugh does with faith.
“It means everything. This game, I play for God, for the Man upstairs. We always say, ‘Give glory to the Man upstairs.’ When I make a big play, I praise Him,” said Fitzhugh.
The Cavaliers struggled against Haywood with six fumbles losing three.
“Uncharacteristically we turned the ball over more tonight than we have all year,” said Ward, who is in his seventh season at Crockett. “You can’t do that against a good football team. I thought we controlled the game for the first half the way we wanted to control it. We kind of slowed it down a little bit and try to get in the fourth quarter with an opportunity to win but we fell apart in the second half.
“We slipped and fall down on fourth down right before halftime and give them the ball and they throw a pass that lands on a guy and bounces up and one of their guys catches it and they go in and score. Instead of being a one possession game, it’s a two-possession game. We couldn’t recover from that point.”
McRae threw a 59-yard pass to Walker with 26.8 seconds left that got Haywood to the 16-yard line. That set up McRae’s touchdown pass to Moore that gave the Tomcats the halftime lead.
The Cavaliers entered the game with confidence.
“I think we showed that in the first half. Our defense played really well in the first half and we were moving the football and doing everything we wanted to do in the first half,” said Ward.
Branch gave the Cavaliers a 6-0 lead on a 1-yard run with 11:22 left in the second quarter. Maynor Cerrato kicked his first of three extra points for a 7-0 lead.
A 12-yard run by McRae then a seven-yard pass to Shields and McRae’s 18-yard run to the Crockett 25 set up Reed’s first TD. He ran 25 yards for a 7-7 tie when Joseph Sanchez kicked his first of seven PATs.
Parker’s touchdown cut the Tomcat lead to 21-14 before McRae ran for a first down at the Cavaliers’ 45 and Hines ran 29 yards to the 16. Reed scored from there for a 28-14 lead.
Haywood linebacker Calvin Carson recovered a fumble at the Tomcat 49 with 2:42 left in the third quarter. McRae passed to Ethan Conatser for 18 yards and McRae’s first down run to the 16. Hines then scored. Haywood led 35-14.
Two straight first down runs by McRae got the Tomcats to the 21. Reed then scored a 21-yard touchdown for a 42-14 lead.
Crockett’s defense held Reed on fourth and one at the Haywood 38. A 24-yard pass from Fitzhugh to Williams set up Branch’s 5-yard touchdown as Crockett pulled to within 42-21. Reed then raced 53 yards for his touchdown.
Leading the Crockett defense was Parker with 8 tackles, Branch and Josh Owens 5 each, Jordan 4.5, Hayden Love 4. Dylan Todd had a four-yard sack.
“Jordan Branch played a really good game defensively and really showed up a lot offensively when he ran the ball really hard. I thought Jacob had a good night. The turnovers he had doesn’t define who he is as a quarterback,” said Ward.
Hookfin said that he changed the team’s defense “for the most part.”
“I thought it worked. We held them to 21 points. Our defense stepped up big for us tonight. Our mindset doesn’t change. Our recipe for success is pretty much the same. We know at this time of the year everybody has athletes. Everybody has guys that can make plays. They have got speed, size, good coaching but in my opinion, not every player is going to be committed to little things.
“If we can commit to little things every single play, the scoreboard is going to take care of itself. That has been our mindset coming in.”
Tristan Taylor had a game-high 13 tackles for the Tomcats, including 11 solos. Andrew Stanley had 9, Marquis Pugh 8, Derrion Bell 7, Calvin Carson 6.
“We fell apart in the second half,” said Ward. “Last year we struggled all year long and for these seniors to buy into what we were doing and to lead this team, proud is an understatement.
“These guys have been through the tough times but I am very glad they were able to enjoy a lot of good times this year and hopefully that will be what they remember of being this program.”
The Tomcats have been playing together since they were six years old said Hookfin.
“They really care about each other and really love each other. They play extremely hard for each other. When you play hard for each other, you have no regrets.”