MANCHESTER – With heads hung low, the Tigers walked toward the locker room knowing they had just given a win away. Four fumbles and inexecution led to the 28-21 defeat at the hands of the Mason County Royals. Clay would give away three of the four fumbles in the first half, all being momentum killers on what were successful goal-line drives.
Tiger Coach Mike Sizemore is ready to put the loss in the rearview mirror and move forward week to week. “We play to win every game, so any loss is a tough one for us,” said Sizemore. “We have another game to get ready for this week and our players really need to focus on the task at hand. Win, lose, or draw this time of year after the game you have to move on and get ready for the next opponent. Our guys have to be mature enough to put our mistakes behind us, so we can approach and prepare for each opponent the same every week.”
After a turnover filled 1stquarter, the Tigers would reach the end zone as D.J. McCulley dragged two Mason defenders across the plane for a goal line score. Things seemed in favor of the Tigers, as they forced a punt the next possession, only to fumble directly after on the ensuing play. Mason County would burst for a 47-yard score on the following play, tying things 7-7. Clay would score on another goal line push from McCulley but would head into the half down 14-13 as Mason would pass for a score.
Mason would go on to throw for 131 yards, while rushing for 180. The Tiger defense flashed it’s potential and talent but would then fail to make a play when needed. Raven Abner would catch a spectacular touchdown in the corner of the end zone on 4thdown, to put the Tigers ahead 21-14 momentarily. However, the Royals would air out a 51-yard bomb to take the final lead change, 28-21.
Coach Sizemore plans on fixing the turnover issue, as protection of the ball is vital moving forward. “We are constantly working ball security in everything we do,” added Sizemore. “Our kids are always fighting for extra yards after initial contact and that's when you're vulnerable to getting the ball knocked out which happened to us on Friday. I never want to coach the effort and toughness out of our guys, but it would have been nice to not have those turnovers considered we won virtually every other statistical category in the game. If we don't turn the ball over, there's a real good chance that we win the game plan and simple.”
Despite the tough loss, the Tigers showed positivity in different facets of the game. Putting it together consistently will be the key. “Even though it was a tough loss for our team, I thought we played well enough to win except for a handful of plays in the game,” said Sizemore. “As a team, we outgained Mason 442 yards - 311 yards over the course of the game, so offensively I felt like we played well. They didn't force us to punt the football until around the 6-minute mark in the fourth quarter so the three drives that we gave away in the first half on fumbles really hurt us because I don't feel like they were going to stop us from scoring if we hang on to the football especially when we get down in scoring position.”
Sizemore stressed to his guys the importance of cutting down the mistakes, and not beating themselves. “We had another drive at the end of the 3rd quarter that could have put us up two scores and that was another missed opportunity for us, which could have really forced Mason's hand in the fourth quarter,” Sizemore pointed out. “It’s frustrating, but hopefully our kids will learn from it and pull the positives out of it moving forward. To use an old Chuck Noll quote, "Before you can win a game, you have to not lose it.", and that is what I always stress to our kids, you can't beat anybody if you are beating yourself. I thought we were the better team in most phases of the game Friday night, but turnovers will get you beat in most sports quicker than anything else. We just have to keep our heads up and keep fighting forward into the next game.”
Overall, the Tigers lost but had some players step up in critical roles. Chandler Hibbard, the state’s leading rusher, scampered his way to 262 yards on 34 carries. “He ran exceptionally well and is currently the #1 rusher in the entire state through all classes, said Sizemore. “He averaged nearly 8 yards a carry over the course of the game.”
Sizemore had high praise for his backfield and their efforts as well. “Ben Meadowsran the ball well for us and done a great job starting at safety on defense, he averaged over seven yards a carry on the night said Sizemore. “We will be getting him more carries moving forward. DJ McCulley ran very hard on the night. He will have to get more carries moving forward, especially as conditioning improves where he is also such a force on the defensive line for us. Any time we are in the red zone he is a load to handle and is hard to stop from going into the end zone for a lot of teams. Ethan Hackeris playing very solid for us right now, he has been right on the money and I expect him to continue to play well as the season progresses. The success of our running game didn't put us into many passing situations this past game, but when we had to put the ball in the air, he executed very well and kept the drive going.”
The offensive line and tight ends had success for the Tigers as well. “These guys are setting the tone right now for our football team,” complimented Sizemore. “There were several plays on Friday where our guys like Evan Langdon, Nathan Bishop, and Mark Jackson just collapsed the Mason County defensive line and gave us massive holes to run through. Calling the offense is easy when you're always ahead of the chains and these guys done a great job allowing us to move the ball on Friday.”
Passing – Ethan Hacker 7-14, 85 yards, 1 TD; Rushing – Chandler Hibbard 34 carries, 262 yards; Ben Meadows 7 carries, 38 yards; DJ McCulley 5 carries, 36 yards, two TD’s; Ethan Hacker 2 carries, 21 yards; Receiving – Nathan Bishop 2 catches, 36 yards, Raven Abner 2 catches, 31 yards, 1 TD; Adam Collins 1 catch, 11 yards; Dominique Hubbard 2 catches, 7 yards.