Coming or going, Arlington High School football players don’t miss the sign.
Posted inside the entrance of the field house is a message that gives directions: “Priorities. Your Faith, Family, School Work, Football, Everything Else.”
Head Coach Adam Sykes put up the sign this past summer.
“It’s something that we had in our weight room when I was in high school,” he said. “It is very important to have your priorities straight. Football should be very important to our guys but I want them to remember that it should not be the most important thing in their lives.”
At halftime of Collierville’s game with Arlington on Friday and his team trailing 28-14, Collierville Head Coach Mike O’Neill had a message of his own: “Offense, please start our team. Turn the key.”
The Dragons did.
“We got in the game. We got a little enthusiasm,” said O’Neill.
With two touchdowns in the third quarter, the Dragons tied the game.
Just as the Dragons tied at 28, Arlington sophomore Kenneth Walker III raced 37 yards for a game-winning touchdown with 5:44 left in the third.
“I got hyped up. I was determined to score,” said Walker of his first-ever diving touchdown.
At halftime and before the game, Sykes told his team, “This is going to be a 48-minutes fight.”
It doesn’t matter if you are up at halftime or if you are down,” he said. “Teams are going to come out and fight for 48 minutes. That is what they did.”
Collierville quarterback Matt Connors said, “I thought we came out strong in the second half and put up two quick touchdowns. We didn’t fall apart. We were strong. We just couldn’t finish drives. That is on me and that is on our offense and we have got to find a way to fix that. This is a game we should not have lost.”
Arlington’s 35-28 Region 4-6A, Homecoming victory propelled the Tigers to a 4-2 record. Collierville, which forfeited two season-opening victories, fell to 1-5, 0-3 in region.
“I am proud of our guys for fighting through,” said Sykes. “They had every chance in that second half to lie down. They didn’t. They fought and fought and fought.”
“Revenge win” is how Arlington running back Tavarious Foster termed it.
“Last year they beat us (44-30). That played in our minds. I’m a senior. I want to go out with everything that I got.”
Everywhere there was a sign that this would be the kind of game the Tigers are used to—back and forth.
“That is how we play every game,” said Foster. “It is not going to be a blow out. So, we are used to it.”
Fifteen seconds into the game, Tigers quarterback Tate Kolwyck connected with Noah Johnson for an 80-yard touchdown pass. Saul Perez then kicked his first of four extra points.
“It was good to get out ahead on somebody for once,” said Sykes. “It seems like this year we have been behind the eight ball every game. It was nice to flip the script for once.”
Its quickest touchdown of the season, Arlington calls the play a hitch-read. “Our quarterback made a good read on it and the receiver made a catch and run,” said Sykes.
Countering, the Dragons had good plays of their own. A 60-yard, seven-play drive tied the game as Connors threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Bersoza with six minutes left in the first quarter. Dylan Scott’s PAT kick made it 7-7.
An interception by the Dragons’ Ryan Stanfill at the Arlington 48-yard line was returned to the 31. Connors then ran 10 yards before later scoring on a 4-yard run for a 14-7 lead with 1:31 left in the first.
The quick-strike Tiger offense continued. Kolwyck hit Caleb Nelson for an 84-yard touchdown to tie the game with 5:49 left in the second quarter, 14-14.
Special teams were crucial in the victory. Arlington recovered an on-side kick that led to a 10-yard touchdown run by Walker, giving the Tigers a 20-14 lead.
On Arlington’s next possession, Foster sped 80 yards for a touchdown and a 26-14 lead. Kolywck’s two-point conversion pass to Hunter Goodman increased it to 28-14 with 3:50 left in the second quarter.
By halftime, the Tigers had 412 yards of total offense to Collierville’s 164. Foster had 103 yards rushing on nine carries. Kolwyck had completed 8-of-14 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns.
Led by running back Peyton McCay, the Dragons got in position to cut the lead. McCay’s 11-yard run got a first down at the Collierville 45-yard line. Mikho Grandison then ran 51 yards for a touchdown and the Dragons were within 28-21.
With Goodman punting from his 44-yard line, Collierville’s Alex Smith blocked it. The ball rolled out of bounds at the 37. McCay, who had returned from an early-season knee injury, scored on a 5-yard touchdown run with 7:23 left in the third. Scott tied the game at 28.
However with all the offensive fireworks, the turning point said Goodman was Arlington’s defense.
“The most exciting thing about tonight was the last stop on defense. It was a crucial point in the game,” he said.
With 2:13 left, Collierville was on its 36-yard line after fielding Goodman’s punt. Connors’ pass to Bersoza went for a first down at the Arlington 36. Blake Stigger then caught a pass to the 28. Arlington was penalized 15 yards for a personal foul and the Dragons were on the 14 with 1:01 left.
After two incomplete passes, a penalty on Collierville pushed the Dragons to the 31. Facing third-and-27, Connors’ pass to Bersoza was broken up by Tanner Magowan. On fourth down with 32.1 seconds left, Connors threw an incomplete pass to Grandison at the 19.
“I was excited,” said Connors. “I thought we had a chance to do something special at the end of the game. I felt confident. I know it was on me to do it and then I couldn’t get it done.”
The Dragons play at Houston (2-3, 2-1 region) at 7 p.m. this Friday. Arlington plays at Cordova (6-0, 3-0).
Tigers linebacker Brandon Walker said, “We played stout defense.”
“We bent but we did not break,” he noted. “The defense was making play-after-play to get off the field and let the offense do their thing.”
Sykes said, “We had guys falling out with injuries every couple of plays in the second half, then it was next man up. They just went in and did his job.”
Collierville had the ball with 5:01 left in the game. Connors hit Bersoza for a 15-yard gain to the Arlington 40. McCay ran to the 35. Connors threw to Grandison at the 23 but the pass was broken up by Jaydon Johnson.
On third-and-five, Connors threw an incomplete pass and later on fourth down, Magowan broke up a pass to Bersoza at the 23-yard line.
“It was huge for our confidence,” Sykes said. “I think at the beginning of the game, confidence wanes. Sometimes we feel good. Sometimes we feel bad. Our whole D-line played well the whole game.”
Arlington had 599 yards of total offense (321 passing, 278 rushing) with Collierville gaining 366 yards (156 passing, 210 rushing). The Tigers had 278 yards passing with Kolwyck completing 11 of 20 passes for 292 yards.
Foster gained 166 yards on 20 carries, Walker 88 yards on 96 carries. Johnson had 112 yards receiving on four receptions. Nelson had 95 yards receiving, Walker 52 and Goodman 53.
Connors completed 16-of-32 passes for 156 yards. Grandison led Collierville rushers with 90 yards on eight carries. McCay gained 78 yards on 24 carries. Connors gained 42 yards on eight carries. Each scored a touchdown.
Bersoza led receivers with 64 yards on seven catches while Stigger had 55 yards on three receptions and Grandison 31 yards on five.
“I was happy of how I managed the game in general. I thought I did a fairly good job of making reads,” said Connors. “At the end of the day, I missed too many throws and didn’t make enough plays. As a team, we have got to be a little more mentally tough. Going into a rival game at Houston, it is going to be challenging to stay focused. We have to lock-in and get it done.”
O’Neill said, “I am not going to fault the kids. They didn’t quit. We just have a hard time putting four quarters together. Everybody is still in the playoffs (all 32 6A teams in Tennessee go). We are going to be in a dog fight.”
What clicked for Arlington was its running game.
“We are a passing team,” said Foster. “Most people are expecting a pass and we still passed at the beginning of the game, but then the run started opening up.”
Foster’s 80-yard run was his longest this season.
“I am glad I got that one out of the way. I feel excited. I want to play football in college,” said Foster, who has 4.4 to 4.5 speed. “Coaches are looking for those long runs.”
Another factor in the win was stopping on third downs. The Dragons made five of 14 third down conversions. Arlington made five of 12.
“Usually we give up big plays on third down,” said Parker, a senior who had nine tackles. “We will stop the run two times and then (comes) that third. We wanted to prove that we can stop teams on third down.”
Feathers had 10 tackles to also spark the defense. Feathers had two tackles for losses. Todd Roaten had a sack of 3.5 yards. Magowan had six tackles. Nick Foster five and Ethan Asher four.
For Collierville, Zach Mitchell had seven tackles while Devan Reynolds, Smith, Cole Johnson, Justin Ragin each had six. Reynolds and Ragin both had 2.5 tackles for losses.
Scott averaged 36.20 yards on five punts. Goodman averaged 23.75 on five.
Arlington’s touchdown that gave the Tigers a 20-14 was highlighted by Walker’s 20-yard run from the Wildcat formation. The Tigers’ third quarter touchdown that gave the lead had a 14-yard pass from Kolwyck to Johnson.
The Tigers’ defense also stopped Collierville on a fourth-and-two at the Tigers 18-yard line with 2:05 left in the third quarter.
Kolwyck threw a 15-yard pass to Goodman in the fourth quarter that got Arlington on its 48-yard line. Later on fourth-and-one at the 43, Collierville’s defense stopped the drive with 5:02 left to play.
he Tigers’ electric first-play touchdown built momentum.
“It sparked,” said Foster. “We are going to end this thing. We got this. We can play with them.”
Sykes said, “It’s good to have a quick-strike offense and then sometimes you want to be able to grind the clock out and give your defense a rest, which is something we need to work on.”
The Dragons have some injured players.
“We have to have an open tryout again. That is where we are,” said O’Neill.
He was glad that McCay returned.
“He ran the ball hard. We are pretty deep at running back. I think he gives us another look. He is more of a power back. Cole Johnson is more of a speed back. Matt has got to find some open receivers and we have to establish a passing game.”
Connors praised the play of Smith.
“He made a lot of plays. I was happy to see that.”
McCay said, “We need to start winning. Losing this one makes it kind of tough to host now but we can see if we can get back on the winning track next week against Houston.
“I will put my body out there for my team,” he continued. “I will run in, hole or no hole. These guys (offensive line) work their butts off. I could never do what they do. There are good plays and bad plays. I am more of a lead by example. If they see me start quitting in the backfield, I am not helping anybody.”
No quit is what Goodman said about the Tigers.
“We are going to keep playing until the end of the game.”
Said Walker, “I think that was one of our best games.”
Written by Bill Sorrell, special to the Express.