An 82-yard kickoff return with 16 seconds remaining to beat Stephenson. A 31-yard pass play with no time left to send the game into overtime in an eventual win over Brookwood.
Those two plays suddenly typify the season for an M.L. King football team that has rallied on several occasions to remain undefeated.
The Lions (12-0) won the Region 2-AAAAA title in the final game of the regular season when Blake Tibbs returned a kickoff 82 yards in the final seconds for the winning score. The Lions had trailed by three touchdowns in the second half.
Then last week in the second round of the AAAAA state playoffs, a 31-yard pass from Jonquel Dawson to Cornell Boyd as time expired forced overtime against Brookwood. The Lions, who were down by a touchdown on three different occasions, won it on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Dawson to Tibbs.
“These guys just won’t quit,” Lions coach Mike Carson said. “We always feel like if there’s time on the clock we have a chance to win, no matter what the situation.”
Against Brookwood, Dawson had thrown his third interception of the game with less than three minutes remaining in regulation. But M.L. King was able to use its three timeouts and force Brookwood to punt. The Lions took over at their own 28, and advanced to the Broncos’ 31 with nine seconds remaining before the game-tying toss.
“To me, as much as we work on our two-minute drill, I felt like we had enough time to score,” Carson said.
Carson and his coaching staff have worked on the Lions’ spread offense almost non-stop since he got the job two years ago. M.L. King is a regular competitor during the summer in 7-on-7 passing tournaments throughout the state.
Our goal is to win a state championship,” Carson said. “That’s been our goal since January. We’ve competed in passing tournaments and have developed the type of mentality that we know if we have the football we’ve got a chance to score. They’ve developed a no-quit type of attitude.”
That attitude served the Lions well earlier in the season as well. M.L. King trailed region rival Westlake in the first half before rallying in the second half to win 35-14. The Lions also trailed Luella, another region foe, before rallying late in the game to win 49-42.
Depth at wide receiver also has helped the Lions be able to stave off defeat in the final seconds. Tibbs, committed to a scholarship offer by Georgia, is the marquee receiver. With four catches against Brookwood, Tibbs has 63 catches for 1,042 yards and 15 touchdowns this season.
Joshua Stanford has 46 catches for 917 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Boyd has 33 catches for 472 yards and seven scores.
With three touchdown passes against Brookwood, Dawson is tied for the state career record for touchdown passes with 92. He also has unofficially 8,557 career passing yards, less than 600 yards behind state leader Zach Stanford of Metter, who passed for 9,062 from 2001-04.
“Our other receivers are being overlooked and that’s fine with us,” Carson said. “Teams are double-covering and bracketing Blake and forgetting about our other guys.”
Carson exploited that against Brookwood, calling the same play three times in a row. After two misfires, Dawson threw a strike to Boyd, who was wide open in the front of the end zone for the game-tying score in regulation.
“These guys [Boyd and Stanford] are better than most other team’s No. 1 receiver,” Carson said. “What Stafford did [against Brookwood] was outstanding. He’s a big-time player.”
Winning two games in the final seconds in the past three weeks hasn’t taken a toll on his team, Carson said. In fact, it may have the opposite effect.
“They feed off of it,” Carson said. “They’re a pretty poised football team at this stage. They understand that in order for us to win, we’ve got to play good on both sides of the ball and on special teams.
“If we do what we need to do to have a chance to win, we believe nobody can beat us,” Carson said.
The next challenge for the Lions is Lassiter on Nov. 25 in the third round, 7:30 p.m., at Hallford Stadium. The Lions will see a mirror-image of them on offense as Lassiter also runs a spread offense. Lassiter’s Eddie Printz has passed for 2,694 yards and 25 touchdowns.
“It helps in a way that they’re a spread offense because our defense has been going up against a spread every day in practice all season,” Carson said.