In the record books, Tallassee’s 2020 campaign ended with a 1-0 victory over Carroll High and finished the year a disappointing 3-7. To some, that’s all they will ever know about this year’s Tigers. Those who were there for the good, the bad and the ugly will know Tallassee ended the 2020 season with a 41-20 victory over Bullock County, its third choice to play the season finale.
“I’ve never coached in a year like this,” an emotional coach Mike Battles said after the game. “I’ve never had to forfeit games. This was our third opponent to schedule for (Friday night). Carroll had to forfeit — nobody’s fault; we’ve had to forfeit. We were going to play Geneva. Geneva called on Monday and found out from the state association that they couldn’t play us because they’ve already played 10 games. So as of Monday at 11 a.m. we didn’t have a game. Called around, called Coach (Sheldon) Ward down there at Bullock County and they'd already played nine games and finished up their season but he wanted his kids to have another game.”
For all intents and purposes, Friday’s game never happened.
But it did — for the seniors on both sides especially, and especially for the Tigers.
“They’ve been through so much,” Battle said. “We didn’t even know if we were going to get to have football. We started practicing and then we went through quarantine. Then we came back, got into the season and everything was moving along. Then here we are, three hours from getting on the bus to go play a game that if we win, we’re in the state playoffs and then boom — done, for two weeks. We had to forfeit those two weeks, get back on Wednesday and have to go to play Clay Central. We hadn’t had a homecoming or had the opportunity to do all the things that kids in past classes had the chance too. Just getting this game in — for our whole school system — was very important.”
These seniors surviving in a Jumanji-type year had the opportunity to have all the pomp and circumstance that comes with a small-town homecoming, just outside and socially distanced.
Oh, and they won the game too.
Bullock County struck first as the Hornets stung the Tigers on a 14-yard pass from quarterback Robert Williams to Bryant Grant to move them to the Tallassee 4. Two plays later, Williams called his own number for the score, pushing in from 1 yard out with the help of his running back. The point after attempt was errant; however, Bullock County led 6-0.
They quickly fell behind 14-6.
Tallassee answered with a drive bookended by a pair of Jalyn Daniels runs. The first, for 24 yards, put the Bullock County defense on their heels. The last, a 17-yard sprint to the far corner of the end zone, showed them the difference between Class 4A and 5A speed.
Daniels finished the night with 127 yards and three scores on 14 carries.
Clay Johnson added the point after to put the Tigers up 7-6.
Tallassee’s defense got in on the act of scoring to start the second quarter. Jaquavious Lackey snatched a Williams pass out of the night sky and housed it from around 40 yards increasing the Tigers lead to 14-6, following another successful kick by Johnson.
After a Hornet punt, the Tigers again drove their way to the promised land on the legs of Daniels.
He jump-started the drive with an 11-yard run and capped it with a 13-yard, big-bodied-blocker led ramble into the end zone.
Johnson added another kick to put Tallassee up 21-6.
Bullock County answered with a 6-yard Brandon Perry touchdown run. The two-point try was an adventure giving the Tigers a 21-12 lead going into the intermission.
The Tigers put the game away in the third quarter.
Marciano Smith (65-yards on a handful of carries) scored from 19-yards out after slinging Hornet defenders off him as if they were unwelcome guests at a tailgate party. With the kick, the Tigers went up 28-12 then expanded their lead to 35-12 following another Daniels’ scoring run.
Daniels’ run, a 15-yard sprint to the end zone, was highlighted by his blockers delivering a series of chest-plate rattling collisions to open the path for Daniels to run through.
Tallassee added its final score of the night in the fourth frame. Zavion Carr (51 yards on six carries) scored from 4 yards out to put the game on ice. The extra point attempt turned into a two-point pass that fell incomplete bringing games’ mark to 41-12.
Bullock County scored late and converted the two points, bringing the score to the 41-20 tally.
“All of this was borderline on Monday and then we had (Hurricane Zeta) that came through on Wednesday,” Battles said. “I’ve gotten up every morning this season wondering what today is going to bring. But I applaud these kids for hanging in there. I know it was hard to get up to play today when you know this game doesn’t really mean anything and you have no playoffs next week. But they like to play the game and that’s why it was very important to come out and play the game (Friday night).”
For Battles, it was one last opportunity to coach his eldest son: Thomas Battles. This is the point where the typically stoic Coach Battles began to transform into a proud father.
“I’ve been proud of him,” Battles said. “He’s done anything we’ve ever asked of him and he’s a total team player. Luckily I have another one coming up (Mason, the Tigers’ eighth-grade long-snapper) and he’ll be in ninth grade next year. But it’s tough because I can’t be a normal dad. There are times when I have to be a dad to 14 or 16 of them at a time.”
In the second half, the Battles, all of them, had the opportunity to celebrate when Daniels tossed a pass to the senior that fell just fingertips away from being a touchdown.
“I was hoping he’d get that ball, but it is what it is,” coach Battles said. “He’s enjoyed playing and he’s always done a good job. That’s the best you can hope for and we’ve had the best season we can have.”
For Tallassee — completely disregarding its 3-7 record to look at the bigger picture — Friday’s win was the best way for the Tigers to cap a football season in what has amounted to Level 10 of Jumanji 2020.
“We had the best season we could have and got through it and finished it up right,” Battles said. “Our seniors got to go out winners. For everything that has happened, this was the best possible outcome we could have.”
As football season caps off as a freshly closed chapter on this school year, the Tigers will turn their focus to basketball and wrestling season.