Photo/Brad Crowe

The 2018 postseason has been filled with daunting challenges for the defending champion Taylorsville Tartars. After consecutive weeks of competing on muddy turfs in sub-50 degree temperatures and pulling out gutsy, defensive wins, there is no debating that Taylorsville has earned its spot in Saturday’s 2A state championship to defend its title.

“We’re excited to be here,” head coach Mitch Evans said during Monday’s media event at Southern Miss. “We felt like, starting in June, this was our goal. We need one more win to reach that goal, we’re playing a really good team, but we’re here to win. So that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

To get that last win, the Tartars must face what is easily their greatest challenge of the season. To bring home the trophy, Evans’ team will have to earn its first win in over two years without sophomore phenomenon Ty Keyes at quarterback.

Keyes suffered a fractured malleolus, a bone right above his right ankle, on a quarterback scramble during the second quarter of the south state championship game versus Bay Springs. Though he admits Keyes absence is certainly a big blow, Evans and the Tartars still feel confident in their ability to compete at the highest level. After all, it won’t be the first time they’ve competed on this stage with a freshman signal caller.

This time, the freshman is the head coach’s son, Karson Evans. In limited action the underclassmen has completed 13 of 22 pass attempts, throwing for three touchdowns and one interception. Evans has also showed the ability to make plays with his legs, carrying the ball 14 times for 121 yards. Both the coaches and players say they feel comfortable playing with Karson under center.

“Our team is confident in our young, freshman quarterback,” Evans said. “Last week we kind of threw into the fire not expecting him to play, and all of the sudden he goes in and finishes the game for us. I believe he was five for six with a touchdown and a two-point conversion. So I think, with a week or preparation, he’ll be ready to go.”

Another crucial factor for Taylorsville will be establishing its running game, led by senior Keyon Bass who has been playing tremendously throughout the fall. Bass has amassed 200 carries for 1,158 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns, one of which came on the most crucial drive of the south state championship game when the team trailed with under two minutes left on the clock. He and sophomore Jeffery Pittman will be looked to early and often to help move the chains and keep Evans out of long-yardage situations.

As if playing without Keyes was not enough of a challenge for the offense, she Scott Central Rebels (14-1) boast one of the best defenses in the state, surrendering an average of only eight points per game to its 15 opponents. Not far behind them, however, is the Tartars’ defense which has given up just 8.6 points per game. Evans says the defense will be expected to continue its strong play and take as much pressure off the offense as possible.

“Our key through the last half of the season was no doubt our defense,” said Evans. “Over the last eight weeks they have steadily gotten better. Over the last two weeks, they’ve held two of the best offenses in 2A to 12 and 8 points. Without Coach Grissom and the defense, we wouldn’t still be playing right now.”

The Tartars’ defense will have its hands full yet again this weekend as they attempt to contain a highly talented stable of Scott Central running backs. Sophomores Treyon Wash and Jabrelynn Vivians have led a physical Rebels rushing attack in 2018, combining for 1,655 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground. Five Rebels have averaged over five yards per carry on 40 or more rush attempts. The unit’s run-in with Taylorsville’s defense is sure to a memorable clash, as the Tartars have only surrendered 100 rushing yards to opposing teams twice this season.

“They’re big,” noted Evans. “They’re real big guys, they run the ball right at you. I mean it’s going to be a real slobber-knocker.”

The Rebels and Tartars will take the field at 3:00 p.m. Saturday in Southern Miss’ M.M. Roberts Stadium to determine who will claim the 2018 MHSAA 2A State Championship.