EVANS,Ga - The Alcovy Tigers (2-5,1-1) played strong defense all night long, but their offense and special teams struggled in a 21-6 loss on the road against the Lakeside Panthers (5-1,1-1).
Trailing the Tigers by a score of 6-0 with 3:05 left to play in the opening half, the Panthers had one long drive that ended with a nine-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the endzone from quarterback Jaden Taylor to wide receiver Rickey McGee.
As well as the Tigers moved the ball in the first half, it felt as if the Panthers would need more points than just this measly touchdown pass to win the game, but that was not the case.
The Tigers got on the board first with a five-yard touchdown run by quarterback M.J. Stroud that came on the first play of the second quarter. Stroud took the snap and was able to outrun the edge rusher to the pylon.
Stroud was excellent in the first half, but it was surprisingly his arm that was getting the job done rather than his legs. At the halftime mark, Stroud only had two yards rushing but had 101 yards passing.
Stroud completed his first five passes and seemed to be his most comfortable in the pocket since the season has begun. Stroud's favorite target seemed to be junior Caleb Brown, who finished with 50 yards on three receptions.
It was a surprise to see Alcovy's passing game working so well, but that success was hindered in the second half as Stroud would only add 15 more passing yards to his final total. Stroud finished with 116 passing yards 10-for-21 with two interceptions.
The Tigers' rushing attack was strong at times but had issues of keeping the ball moving in a positive direction at times. Running back Andrae Robinson was the Tigers' most consistent rusher on the night as he finished with 88 yards on nine carries.
The Alcovy Tigers did have a few special teams miscues that ultimately cost them in this game. The Tigers had two missed field goals in the first half, with one coming on their extra point attempt after their opening touchdown and another coming on an earlier 21-yard field goal attempt.
To open the second half, the Panthers were able to catch the Tigers off guard with an onside kick attempt and recovered the ball at the 47-yard line. The Tigers were able to keep the Panthers off the board on that drive, but it was still an unfortunate special team play that could have ended up worse.
The Tigers did, however, block one punt and the Panthers did have a snap that sailed over the punter's head and led to favorable field position for the Tigers both times.
However, both times, the Tigers were unable to earn points on those drives. Dukes was very disappointed with the special teams' play of his Tigers and knows they will have to put more focus on that area of the team in the coming practices.
"It's a work in progress, and we're still trying to improve," said Dukes. "That's something we've got to go back and reemphasize in practice and just work harder on it."
The one group for the Tigers that has been consistently good for them all season is their defense, and they showed up once again in this match. The Tigers had 218 yards of total offense, but on defense, they held the Panthers to just 142 yards of offense. The Tigers defense played very well, and Dukes could not be more proud of that group.
"Our defense did a great job of not only getting some takeaways but playing pretty solid defense throughout the entire game," said Dukes. "When the defense plays that well, the offense has to do a better job of executing and finishing drives."
On a short field both times, the Panthers added on two more rushing scores and ultimately took the win.
This was a tough loss for the Tigers in a game where they seemed to have control. However, Dukes appeared to keep the message positive with his team after the game and knows that they still have progress to make.
"I told them we have to execute, we have to play better," said Dukes. "You can't make mistakes, and we have to do a better job with ball security. We turned the ball over multiple times, and you can't be successful if you turn the ball over multiple times."
Coach Dukes could be overheard after the game telling his team, "We have to get back to work," and they will look to do just that in their next region game.
The Tigers will go on the road to take on the Heritage Patriots on Friday, October 25th.