Story by David D Goodwin / Central Alabama Scoreboard
Photos by Sandie Free / Central Alabama Scoreboard
ECLECTIC – If there was going to be a year for Elmore County to end its skid in the rivalry vs. Tallassee, this was it.
The Panthers have been on a tear under first-year coach Kyle Caldwell. And Tallassee has suffered its first four-game losing streak in recent memory, sitting 0-2 in 5A Region 2. But Elmore County’s revenge was not to be Thursday night, as the Tigers made enough plays to win a back-and-forth battle 26-20. The Panthers outgained Tallassee 335 yards to 306, and forced four Tallassee turnovers.
A series of costly penalties in the third quarter let the Tigers work with a short field, and quarterback Tyler Ellis and running back Lil’ Josh Griffin made the Panthers pay. A strong pair of series by Elmore County tailback C.J. Wilkes and the Panther defense took the game down to the wire, but the Panthers were unable to punch in the final touchdown and fell to the Tigers 26-20.
“We needed something to get us going, because we’re not used to losing four games in a row in Tallassee,” head coach Mike Battle said. “Just look at the crowds; both sides are packed. (Elmore County) played hard to the end. We played hard to the end. We just had some kids make a couple of plays when we needed it.”
Griffin and Ellis scored two rushing touchdowns each for the Tigers. Wilkes had a rushing touchdown and gained 173 yards on 24 carries for Elmore County. The junior also took a third-quarter interception 45 yards for the pick-six touchdown.
Caldwell said he was proud of the effort he saw on both sides of the ball, regardless of the outcome.
“Even though we lost, I thought we played over our potential,” he said after a lengthy postgame talk in the locker room. “These kids are learning that it takes maximum effort every time you step onto the field to win games. After going 0-10, and 2-8 the season before, we’re building a culture that every time you put on the pads you give max effort. But it’s not going to be built in a day.”
Wilkes said it was emotional to come up short against their bitterest rivals, but the Panther would use it as motivation. Rd
“It hurts because I wanted to come out and win it,” he said. “But it just didn’t go right. We’ll come back next week and we’re going to work.”
Stephenson threw for 138 yards on a 7 of 21 night, and added a one-yard rushing touchdown that put the Panthers in position to at least tie the game. After a mighty stand by the Panther defense, Stephenson searched for the passes to cover 80 yards with time dwindling.
He found Wilkes along the sideline for a 32-yard play. Ryals McNeely pulled down a 10-yard catch to put the Panthers at the edge of the red zone. But then Tallassee struck back.
“Elmore County has a good team, a good quarterback, good receivers. We had to make a play at the end, and ol’ Burdette and them made a sack,” Battle said, describing the 19-yard sack lead by Luke Burdette at midfield, which effectively ended the Elmore County threat.
Battle and Caldwell both marveled at the atmosphere of the renewed competition in the Eclectic-Tallassee rivalry, and noted it was a fun atmosphere to play in.
“That’s what these games are supposed to be,” Battle said. “It’s not a rivalry game if people don’t get fired up about it.”
The Panthers fall to 4-2 and eye a homecoming game vs. Beauregard next week. The Tigers improve to 3-4, with Valley coming to town next week.
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