Leading 7-0 early in the second half, Fred T. Foard’s defense defined itself in the Tigers’ conference contest at St. Stephens.
With the Indians punting from their own end zone, Foard’s Tanner Fleming knew the game was on the line.
“I gave it all I had. I knew it was important. I knew it was a big play to make,” Fleming said of a play where he blocked a Zach Bryant punt that was recovered by Sam Benfield in the end zone for a Foard touchdown.
“It felt like a dream,” he continued. “We are not a team that wins often, but right there, it clinched the victory.”
With the score, the Tigers took a 14-0 lead on their way to a 27-14 victory over their conference rival from St. Stephens. The win is the Tigers’ second of the season, and their first in conference action since a win over South Caldwell on Oct. 23, 2009.
“Our defense, I can’t ask any more of them. They played excellent,” said Foard coach Jason Phelps. “Our offense came through when we needed them to come through. It was a team victory. That is what we have been hoping for all year, and we got it.”
The Indians’ loss put playoff hopes in jeopardy for St. Stephens. They fall to 3-6 overall, short of four victories needed for a playoff berth. In the Northwestern 3A/4A conference, the Indians are tied with Hickory where they travel next week.
“The kids will be excited to play Hickory,” said St. Stephens coach Fred Whalen, adding the Friday loss puts his team in a “tough position” where they are now “playing for their playoff lives.”
In a word, Whalen attributed the loss to one thing: turnovers. St. Stephens lost five turnovers. While Foard only converted one of those into points, the four fumble recoveries by the Tigers and an interception killed Indians drives.
Foard also silenced Indian weapons, holding conference-leading rusher Jon Sweet to only 43 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. The Tigers stopped him for a loss or no gain eight times. Coming into the game, Sweet averaged almost 129 yards per game.
“We held the Sweet kid pretty much in check all night,” Phelps said.
Meanwhile, the Tigers’ chief ball carrier, Tre Robinson, posted 178 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. He helped give Foard a 7-0 first-quarter lead with a 61-yard touchdown run. He also scored a late touchdown on a nine-yard run.
“He had to step in and play defense tonight. He did an excellent job,” Phelps said, adding starting Zach Arel was out sick “He played both ways almost all night, and I know he was getting frustrated late in the game, but he held strong. All our kids did.”
After Foard’s Jalen Thompson capped a five-play 68-yard drive with a 57-yard scoring run, the Tigers took a 20-0 fourth-quarter lead. The score came after Foard’s Tevan Ikard recovered an Indian fumble.
From there, the Indians began to mount a comeback. A scrambling Matt Williams connected with Ky’rawn Whitfield on a 35-yard scoring pass with 7:32 remaining in the game to make the score 20-7.
The Indians defense held the Tigers at bay and gave St. Stephens another chance with plenty of time left. A drive aided by a late hit penalty on Williams ended when Sweet rushed five yards to score and bring the Indians within six points, 20-14.
With 3:32 remaining, the Indians attempted an onside kicked that rolled just four yards. The Tigers pounded in Robinson’s late score to hold on for the victory.
“We got a little out of sorts in the fourth quarter,” Phelps said. “They got a good bounce their way, and we are still not to a point where we know how to finish. I’m glad we finally did tonight.”
With a bye week next week, the Tigers host Hickory to close the season.
“We are trying to finish the season as strong as we can and send these seniors out on a good note,” Phelps continued. “We are building this program for the future and we are headed in the right direction.”
One of those seniors, Fleming, sees that.
“We’ve had a pretty tough season,” he said. “We have learned a lot of lessons. It feels great to go out with a win on our last away game. It feels awesome. All the hard work we put in over the summer, it felt like it paid off tonight. I feel like we have got one more left in us.”