TUSCALOOSA — The Demopolis 11-and-12-year-old team came within inches of taking home the championship during its first season in the league before falling to Central-Tuscaloosa 18-14 Saturday.
The teams traded possessions early before Demopolis’ Wil Logan came up with a fumble recovery to give his team the ball near midfield. However, the Tiger offense was unable to move the ball.
After the Falcons utilized a 40-yard touchdown pass to go up 12-0, Justin Sanders fielded the ensuing kickoff at his own 20 before running it back to the 40 to leave the Tigers with good field position near the end of the first half.
Demetrius Kemp then bolted for 16 yards on first down before quarterback Josh Mangum broke a 44-yard scoring run to cut the deficit to 12-6 with 1:25 to go in the second quarter.
Central then mounted another threat, which appeared on the verge of being squelched after Brantley Kilgore mauled the CT quarterback for a sack at the Demopolis 15. On the next play, Central played pitch and catch again, this time covering 15 yards and pushing its lead to 18-6.
“They just said that it’s not over and the game’s just getting started and we needed to suck it up and play our hearts out,” Mangum said of the Demopolis coaching staff’s halftime address.
The momentum swung early in the third quarter when Kemp broke a 13-yard run on the first play from scrimmage before combining with Mangum to methodically move the ball down the field. The pivotal sequence of the possession saw the Falcon defensive front drawn offsides by a Mangum snap count on fourth down to extend the drive.
Four plays later, Kemp punched it in from a yard out to cap the 10-play, 58-yard drive and cut the lead to 18-12. On the conversion attempt, Mangum found Rashad Lynch, who held on to the ball despite strong coverage from the Falcon secondary to leave Demopolis down only four.
The Tiger defense then forced a three-and-out and handed the ball back to its offense at the CT 47. On third and long, Kemp broke a five-yard run. On fourth down, Mangum faked the handoff and broke around the left side where he lowered his shoulder and finished off a five-yard jaunt that extended the Demopolis possession.
However, two plays later, the Tigers coughed the ball up at the Central 27. The Falcons then proceeded to milk the clock before the Tigers forced a turnover on downs that gave them one last shot with 31.9 seconds and no timeouts remaining.
On first down, Kemp bolted for 17 yards to the Falcon 26 before being run out of bounds with 24 seconds left on the game clock. Then, the Tigers took their shot. With the Central defense reeling, the Tigers called a halfback pass that was intended to find Lynch near the goal line. The throw covered enough territory, but found its way into the hands of one of the three Falcon defenders covering on the play. Central then took a knee once to ice the game.
While the Tigers did not win the game, they did find success meeting their primary objectives. According to head coach Joe Tidmore, the team entered the season with the task of first teaching the young athletes to play together and secondly, helping them to grow within the high school football program’s offensive system.
“As far as learning the system, we accomplished more than I thought we would,” Tidmore said.
“When we started the season, (Demopolis High School head coach Tom) Causey gave us his playbook. I didn’t think we were going to be able to run half of it,” assistant coach Chip Hughes said. “The past three games, (Josh Mangum) has called 50 percent of the plays at the line of scrimmage. There is no other quarterback in the league that can do that.”
“It’s amazing to me that this is Josh’s first year of playing football,” Tidmore said of Mangum.
The Tigers also encountered the task of competing with teams who have played together for some time.
“Everybody we played this year has been playing together since there seven years old,” Tidmore said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we were the best team in this league.”
The Tigers have one more game in their 2008 tilt, a date in the Georgia Dome following the Atlanta Falcons game this Sunday.
“We’re looking very forward to that one because it’s a great opportunity for the whole team,” Mangum said.