By the middle of the third quarter, Martin Luther King Jr. quarterback Jonquel Dawson had been tackled in the end zone for a safety and had thrown three interceptions.
Only eight of his 21 pass attempts had been caught by M.L. King receivers and his team trailed rival Stephenson 43-26. Still, Dawson was steadfast.
The quarterback’s conviction was validated when teammate Blake Tibbs returned a kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown with 16 seconds to play in the game. The score completed an improbable comeback by the Lions, who won 50-49 on Nov. 4 in a game that decided first place in Region 2-AAAAA. More than 15,000 fans packed Hallford Stadium.
Dawson, who threw six touchdown passes on the night, threw three in a 10-minute span as M.L. King rallied for a 44-43 lead with 3:32 to play. Stephenson responded with a 75-yard drive, capped by a 4-yard touchdown run by Mike Davis, to take a 49-44 lead with 28 seconds left.
In addition to the kickoff return, Tibbs caught three touchdown passes. Dawson finished with 305 yards on 15 of 30 passing. He amassed 246 yards passing in the second half.
“On offense, we never consider ourselves down,” Dawson said. “We kept our heads high because we know we can score at any time. The [interceptions] were discouraging, but I’m the quarterback so I have to keep my head high.”
Stephenson, however, was just as difficult to stop on offense. Quarterback Justin Colvin took advantage of blown coverages by the Lions to complete 7 of 9 passes for a career-high 204 yards and three touchdowns, including two to Demarcus Sweat.
The Jaguars’ dominating running game also proved hard to stop most of the night. Davis, a Florida commit, rushed for 209 yards and two touchdowns while the Jaguars totaled nearly 300 yards on the ground. Colvin added a rushing touchdown.
“We just didn’t give up tonight,” Lions’ coach Mike Carson said. “The kids just kept fighting. We knew the offense had something else left. We knew they couldn’t stay with our passing game if we gave [Jonquel] enough time to throw.”
M.L. King quickly built a 12-0 lead after two Stephenson mistakes. The Jaguars didn’t cover the opening kickoff, a line drive that appeared to be rolling out of bounds, but bounced back toward the middle of the field and was covered at the Jaguars’ 5-yard line by an M.L. King player. Andrecas Jackson scored two plays later on a 1-yard run for a 6-0 M.L. King lead.
A fumbled snap on Stephenson’s first possession gave the Lions the ball at the Stephenson 21. Tibbs caught a 20 –yard touchdown pass two plays later as the lead grew to 12-0 less than two minutes into the game.
But Stephenson turned the tide and scored the next 36 points. Sweat caught touchdown passes of 37 and 48 yards, and Davis Colvin and T.J. Moon each ran for touchdowns.
While the Jaguars’ offense was pulling away, their defense was keeping the Lions at bay. Dawson was intercepted twice and sacked twice during the span. But a 50-yard interception return by Jeremy Tyler set up an M.L. king touchdown at cut the lead to36-20 right before halftime.
M.L. King will host Coffee in the first round of the state playoffs and Stephenson will host Lowndes in the first round.