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Published 1:04 am Saturday, November 14, 2015
By Ernest Bowker
TALLULAH — With five seconds left, a bank of fireworks shot into the night sky over Tallulah Academy’s Farmers Field to celebrate the home team’s biggest victory of the season so far.
The early celebration was just about the only thing that went wrong on Friday night, or this season.
Mason Todd rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns, Ryan Hodge ran for 174 yards and three more scores, and Tallulah Academy cruised into the MAIS eight-man championship game with a 56-22 victory over Hebron Christian.
“This is what we’ve been wanting all year. It’s been on our minds ever since day one. We’ve set goals and we’ve accomplished them,” Hodge said. “We can’t peak right here. We have to peak at the next game.”
Tallulah (11-1) will play Christian Collegiate (12-0) — a 43-42 winner over Kemper Academy in the other semifinal — Thursday at 10 a.m. at Millsaps College in Jackson. Both the championship game and the matchup will provide a chance for Tallulah to avenge some bitter losses.
The Trojans made it to last year’s title game only to lose to Sharkey-Issaquena Academy. Their only loss this season came at the hands of Christian Collegiate, 46-38 on Sept. 25.
“It’s the first one for me and it’s the second one for TA. We’ve got some unfinished business on the carpet, and we want to get down there and win,” said Bo Barton, who is in his first season as Tallulah’s coach. “We got a state runner-up trophy last year and we’re proud of that. But we want to win one. That’s what we’re here for.”
Tallulah has won 20 of its 23 games since moving to the eight-man division at the start of the 2014 season, and only seems to be getting better.
Hodge scored on a 28-yard run on the team’s first play against Hebron (8-4), then added a 5-yard run on the first play of the second quarter. Two-point conversions after each score made it 16-0, and then Todd went to work.
The senior quarterback broke off touchdown runs of 12 and 82 yards in the second quarter to blow the game open. Hodge added a third score, on a 46-yard run with 47 seconds left in the half, to give the Trojans a 40-6 lead.
Todd also scored on a pair of short runs in the third quarter.
In its last two games, Tallulah has had a total of 42 offensive snaps and scored 13 touchdowns — an average of one every three plays. Of those 42 snaps, only seven have been passes.
“Right now we’re playing the best football we can play, and we’re playing it at the right time,” Barton said. “That’s what we’ve been preaching all year long. With the number of starters we had coming back, I hate to say that’s what we expect but we expect to do well on offense.”
While the offense has gotten red hot, Tallulah’s defense has contributed just as much. It has held its last four opponents to 22 points or less, with most of the points coming once the game is well in hand and the junior varsity is in the game.
Hebron Christian scored is final touchdown on Friday night midway through the fourth quarter. Tallulah intercepted Hebron quarterback Channing Tapley twice in the first half and held the Eagles to 224 yards of total offense.
“We made a decision 10 weeks ago to put those kids on offense and leave them there, and take our bumps and bruises defensively because most of those kids had never started before,” Barton said. “They’ve learned and gotten better and better, and when you’re playing defense with an offense that’s scoring like this it’s pretty fun.”
MAIS Eight-Man championship game
Tallulah Academy vs. Christian Collegiate
Thursday, 10 a.m., at Millsaps College
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