Tigers make strides in 21-16 preseason win over Tuscaloosa County (with video)

Demopolis' Jayjerrin Craig lowers the boom on a Tuscaloosa County defender.

Demopolis’ Jay Craig lowers the boom on a Tuscaloosa County defender.

The Demopolis Tigers’ 21-16 victory over 7A Tuscaloosa County won’t figure in the team’s final record or help in the Tigers’ push toward the playoffs, but their performance brought great joy to the Demopolis faithful.

In the first half played only by starters for both teams, Demopolis had the upper hand over the Wildcats on the scoreboard (14-3 at halftime), physically, and in every statistical category.

To Head Coach Stacy Luker, it just brought relief.

“I’m just relieved to see some improvement,” Luker said postgame. “I think we have made strides as a football team,” with Luker adding emphasis on the last word.

Indeed, the team outgained their opponent 140 yards to 73 in the first half, with 110 yards rushing on 26 carries.

Demopolis' Rahmeel Cook takes down Tuscaloosa County's quarterback.

Demopolis’ Rahmeel Cook takes down Tuscaloosa County’s quarterback.

Demopolis ran 31 plays in the first half, compared to only 16 for Tuscaloosa County, with 8 Tiger first downs.

Tuscaloosa County had only one possession in the first half that yielded any first downs. Beginning on their own 20 yard line, Wildcat quarterback Jaden Thomas and runningback Fredrick Evans found gaps in the defense, giving the Wildcats a scoring opportunity inside the Tiger 10 yard line.

Consecutive defensive plays by Khyrim Bryant and Rahmeel Cook forced a 30-yard field goal by Frank Garcia. Tuscaloosa County led 3-0 with 6:55 to go in the second quarter.

On the ensuing possession, a Luker gamble on fourth-and-1 from his own 44 paid off, as Jay Craig ran around right end for a 13-yard gain.

From there, the Craig and Drew Jones had consecutive runs of 11 and 13 yards. Ezell finished off the 9-play drive with a quarterback sneak for a Tiger touchdown. RJ Cox’s extra point gave the Tigers a 7-3 lead with 3:07 left in the half.

Demopolis' Drew Jones tries to escape the grasp of a Tuscaloosa County defender.

Demopolis’ Drew Jones tries to escape the grasp of a Tuscaloosa County defender.

County High would try to answer through the air, but Logan McVay picked off the Wildcats’ football on their first play and returned it to the TCHS 32-yard line.

From there, the Tigers needed 7 plays, capped off by a 9-yard scramble by quarterback Jermarcus Ezell, who dove into the end zone for the touchdown with 12.9 seconds remaining. Cox added the exclamation point to the first half.

Tiger fullback Williams Wilkins added what proved to be the game winning score with 5:34 left in the third quarter on a 75-yard run. Wilkins’ run started with a thud at the line of scrimmage, but he broke to his right, found daylight and outran everyone to the end zone.

Two fourth-quarter touchdowns by the Wildcats set up a wild finish. A late Tiger fumble gave Tuscaloosa County an opportunity to score a potential game-winning touchdown with less than a minute to play. But the threat was ended when Hunter Thrash and Trey Murdock sacked TCHS’ Thomas as time expired, setting off a celebration on the Tiger sidelines.

“That was pretty good, wasn’t it?” Luker said when asked about the ending. “They had us a little nervous over there (on the sidelines), but they bowed up and held them out. That’s good for them.”

While pleased with his team’s overall effort, Luker praised his defense specifically.

“I thought they played good. They ran to the ball, they played fast.”

“That’s a good group.”

Demopolis' R.J. Cox (42), Erin White (45) and Marcus Wright (26) take down a Tuscaloosa County ball carrier.

Demopolis’ R.J. Cox (42), Erin White (45) and Marcus Wright (26) take down a Tuscaloosa County ball carrier.

Wilkins led all rushers with 84 yards on 3 carries and a TD. Craig had 67 yards on 12 carries and a 14-yard pass reception. Ezell was 4-of-5 passing for 33 yards, and rushed for two Tds.

Despite the positive effort, Luker found room for improvement with his team.

“A lot of mistakes tonight, a lot of penalties. We’ve got to get our penalties cleaned up because we really hurt ourselves in that first half.”

“We’re just starting out. It’s a long season, it’s a long grind, but I’m excited. I’m excited about this football team.”

It’s pretty safe to assume, based on the reaction of the fans in attendance, that Coach Luker isn’t the only one excited about this football team after Friday night.