Tucker’s senior class won’t end its final season with a state championship, but it did complete one of the most successful runs of any senior class in school history.
The Tigers (13-1) were eliminated in the Class AAAA semifinals in a 20-19 loss to Starr’s Mill on Nov. 3. Starr’s Mill drove 59 yards in the final two minutes for the winning score.
The game played out similar to the Marist game, which Tucker won in double overtime early in the season. This time, however, the Tigers were not able to run the ball against Starr’s Mill. Seniors Bashr Coles and N’Quan Maggett, who each ran for more than 1,000 yards this season, were held to less than 100 yards combined.
The pair ran for a total of 43 touchdowns in the first 12 games, but neither had a rushing touchdown against the Panthers. Tucker left its hopes to its defense after Coles fumbled with less than three minutes to play inside the Starr’s Mill 40.
“We take pride in our defense,” Tucker coach Franklin Stephens said. “They had to go 59 yards in less than two minutes. This is the time of the year you have to make plays and take advantage of opportunities. We didn’t make the plays we needed to.”
It was the final high school game for 28 seniors, including 13 starters, many of whom were on the team as freshmen when Stephens arrived prior to the 2007 season. Stephens’ first group of seniors finished their high school careers 49-6 with a state championship in 2008. The team went undefeated in the regular season three times, including this season.
“One of the biggest joys this season was seeing how some of these kids matured in four years, not only as football players but as people,” Stephens said. “A few of these kids, when I saw them for the first time when they were freshmen, I thought ‘oh my God.’”
Stephens recalled having to discipline some of his freshmen during his first season and calling a player’s mother. For whatever, reason, the player responded and became a reliable part of the team.
“I used him as an example to the younger players of what can happen when you work hard,” Stephens said. “It’s been nice to watch them grow up and mature in four years. And some of the seniors didn’t get a chance to start until this season, and made the most of it.”
Stephens will have to replace his entire backfield and defensive secondary, as well as most of his offensive line.
Coles ends the season with 1,301 yards and 20 touchdowns while Maggett had 1,047 yards and 23 scores. Quarterback Norman Hayes, who threw a touchdown pass against Starr’s Mill, passed for 937 yards with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions, and ran for 316 yards and six scores this season.
Defensively, the Tigers lose three of the top players in the state in linebackers James Vaughters and Justin Garrett, and defensive back Chris Sanders. Vaughters has committed to Stanford, Sanders to Georgia and Garrett to Auburn.
“I’ve already told the kids who will be coming back that this time we’re depending on them to keep the tradition going,” Stephens said. “Coach [Jeff] Herron told me when I was at Camden that you never know how kids will mature. I’m very curious to see how our underclassmen will mature. There’s a lot of room for growth.”
Maybe so, but the next group has a good model to follow.