It seemed as if everything that could possibly work against the Tartars was coming to fruition. An absolute downpour of rain made it difficult for the Tartars to establish the passing game they have become so well-known for. Sophomore phenom Ty Keyes suffered an early injury, forcing the Tartars to turn to a freshman quarterback to lead them against one of the best defenses in Class 2A. A late touchdown and two-point conversion by the Bulldogs put them in a must-score situation with just four minutes left in regulation. Despite all obstacles, Taylorsville fought relentlessly and earned a 15-8 victory to win a second consecutive south state championship.
“It says a lot,” said the Tartars’ head coach Mitch Evans about his team’s effort in the contest. “I can’t say enough about our defense. A lot of people want to talk about our offense, and deservingly so, but over the last 8-10 weeks our defense has really stepped up. I think they’re one of the best defenses around.”
Defense was definitely the name of the game, with no points reaching the scoreboard through the first quarter and a half of play. Senior receiver Raven Arrington finally made a breakthrough in the second quarter with a 40-yard catch and run to bring the Tartars into the red zone. One play later, all of Taylorsville held its breath as decorated quarterback Ty Keyes had to be carried off the field, unable to put any weight on his right foot. Panicking would have been understandable, but senior running back Keyon Bass said it never crossed the Tartars’ minds.
“We couldn’t let that stop us,” Bass said. “If anything, we had to play harder for Ty. I told them Ty doesn’t make Taylorsville great, Taylorsville makes Taylorsville great. The coaches said they had faith in Karson, and we did too.”
Freshman backup Karson Evans—son of Coach Evans—stepped in and finished the drive with a touchdown pass to senior Chandler Cline to give the Tartars a 7-0 lead that would hold deep into the second half of play.
The opening drive of the second half was one of the most significant of the night. Bay Springs’ offense drove 60 yards in seven minutes to penetrate the red zone. Facing a fourth and goal from the one-yard line, the Bulldogs elected to go for it rather than kick the field goal and were stuffed, resulting in a turnover on downs. According to senior defensive back Calvin Boyland, that stop simply epitomized what the Tartars defense is all about.
“I knew we could get the job done when we made the stop,” said Boyland. “I know my teammates well. We’ve played fifteen games together, and I just knew someone would step up and make a play.”
Midway through the fourth, the Bulldogs scored their first touchdown of the night on a run by Dominick Myers. Yet again they decided to try their luck in a do-or-die situation inside the five, this time converting for two extra points to grab an 8-7 lead with less than five minutes remaining in regulation.
Facing a must-score situation, the Tartars’ offense turned to the reliable senior running Keyon Bass, who had made big plays throughout the season for them. For Evans, this was a pretty easy decision.
“Keyon Bass has been playing this way all year,” bragged Evans. “When it seems like you need a big play, he’s the one you give it to. He’s made our offense go a lot this year, and I’m really proud of him.”
Evans and Bass led the offense downfield in just seven plays, and Bass finished the drive with a 13-yard touchdown run to regain the lead with under a minute left on the clock. Following the score, Evans once again found Cline in the end zone, this time on a tipped pass for a two-point conversion to extend their lead to 15-8.
“You never like it to be ‘next man up’ at quarterback,” chuckled Coach Evans, “but actually, that’s my son. He stepped in and I thought he did a really good job in the second half. He took care of the ball and did everything we asked him to do. Even made a couple really good throws, so I was really proud of him.”
Bay Springs, unwilling to give up their postseason hopes, put together one last effort to score, even successfully driving inside the Tartars’ 30-yard line with under 10 seconds remaining. However, a group of Tartars reached junior quarterback Adrian Cole for a sack on fourth down to force a turnover and end the ballgame.
After speaking to his team, Evans received a special congratulations from his former head coach Marcus Boyles, whom he played quarterback under for the Tartars in high school and led the Tartars to consecutive state titles. Now Evans gets the opportunity to do it again, only from Boyles’ point of view as a coach. When asked to compare the two achievements, Evans said leading the team as a coach means so much more.
“Coaching is a lot more gratifying,” admitted Evans. “Playing was a lot easier. You know, Coach Boyles, playing for that guys was pretty easy. He’s the best coach around. But it’s a lot more difficult when you can’t really control the play yourself, know what I mean? But I just love being around these kids. We’ve got a really good group, they’re playing really well, and I’m just excited for them.”
The date is now set. The Tartars (15-0) will take on the Scott Central Rebels (14-1) in M.M. Roberts Stadium at the University of Southern Mississippi at 3:00 P.M. Saturday, Dec. 1 for the 2018 MHSAA 2A State Championship.