By Darryl Maxie
Special to The Covington News
JACKSON, Ga. -- Alcovy's final dress rehearsal before next week's official dawning of the Jason Dukes era went inconclusively Friday night.
The Tigers, saving their new white and gold away jerseys — and maybe some key players — for the regular season, gave their new head coach a glimpse of what's right, what's wrong and what can be most quickly remodeled with a program trying to change a culture built on just two winning seasons in their first 13 years on the field.
But there was no NaTorien Holloway. No Adrian or Andrae Robinson. They soldiered on without them.
It'll be nearly two more months before the Tigers get a chance to end a 19-game region losing streak in Class AAAAAA competition, but against Jackson, a perennial playoff team in the smaller but equally feisty landscape of Class AAA football, they got a taste of what it might take.
More patience. More building. More healthy front-line players. And better tackling — definitely better tackling.
The Tigers found themselves quickly in a two-touchdown hole and spent the rest of the game in a futile effort to catch up, falling 34-21 in the late-summer heat at Red Devil Hill.
"First thing, I was pleased with our effort," Dukes said. “We stayed in it. Our execution has a little ways to go and we’ve definitely got to become better tacklers. We weren’t sure tacklers.”
Sophomore MJ Stroud endured some hard knocks in his transition from star wide receiver to starting quarterback.
“His progress has been outstanding,” Dukes said. “He made some plays with his arms and his legs.”
But the one Stroud might wish to have back was the pick-six interception returned 35 yards by Jackson’s Jalen Medlock. That put the Tigers in a 13-0 hole barely halfway through the first quarter.
“If you asked him honestly, there were a couple of reads that he missed,” Dukes said. “He had a guy open but went to the other guy. Those things are difficult to bounce back from.”
But they bounced as best they could. Stroud scored on a 1-yard dive early in the second quarter to cut it to a 13-7 deficit. The Red Devils answered 68 seconds later with Josh Scott’s 30-yard scoring strike to speedster Dennis Foster.
They fell behind by 20 before Jamarius Strong bulled his way into the end zone on second-effort strength, pulling the Tigers to within 27-14 at halftime.
But they just didn’t have enough to get over the hump in the second half. They got a beautiful 17-yard touchdown on a softly lofted fourth-down pass from Stroud to Quay Bennamon for their final points. Two other drives ended with the Tigers turning the ball over on downs.
Dukes was undaunted. The real games start next week, beginning with intra-county rival, Newton.
“That’s the good thing about a scrimmage— you learn about yourself, what you need to work on, what you need to fix,” he said. “This team showed resilience and I’m pleased with that. These kids are going to come in Monday and look at this film and be prepared to correct their mistakes.”