COLUMBIA — Starting the season off with the win is every coach and team's goal, but for the Marshall County Tigers, the cost might have been high in Friday night's 30-23 win at Columbia.
“Winning is so tough. Any time you can start the year off with the win you're tickled to death. The only way to say it is we gutted out a win,” Tigers' coach Thomas Osteen said.
In a bizarre second half, the Tigers saw not one, but two quarterbacks go down with injuries.
After Columbia tied the game at 23 apiece with less than seven minute to go, the Tigers recovered a fumble on the Lions' 39-yard line with just 4:25 left in regulation.
From there, Marshall County settled into its offense and was able to move the ball down field with chunk plays.
On a third and short, senior quarterback Bryson Hammons scrambled for 15 yards and picked up the first down, but was tackled along the sideline and went down with an injury.
He did not return to the game.
With Hammons' injury, Osteen turned to Devonte' Davis to lead the Tiger offense.
He did just that and promptly marched the ball deep into Columbia territory, highlighted by a 34-yard pass completion to Lamarion Pierce.
After pushing the ball down to the Columbia one-yard line, Davis was tackled in the backfield and went down with an injury.
He also did not return to the game.
“Two of our best players, Bryson Hammons and Devonte (Davis) banged up. It's a long season and they're some of the best players in Middle Tennessee. We'll know more about them next week,” Osteen said.
Even with two of the top Tiger playmakers sidelined, Marshall County kept its composure and with 1:04 left on the clock, Pierce was able to bounce to the outside and hit the corner pylon for the game-winning touchdown.
Wyatt Joyce connected on his fourth point after to secure the seven-point lead.
“We played three quarterbacks in a series of about four plays. Hats off to those kids for being ready to go when their time was called. We had enough composure there to put it in,” Osteen said.
Prior to the second-half drama, Marshall County looked to be in cruise control through much of the game.
Three plays into regulation, Davis picked off Lion quarterback Luke Uselton and returned it 25 yards for the first score of the night.
The Lions evened the score with a Christian Biggers two-yard run with one minute left in the first quarter, which capped off a nine-play drive.
Marshall County retook the lead at the 9:41 mark of the second quarter when Hammons connected with Davis for a 35-yard touchdown pass to put the Tigers up 14-7 after Joyce's successful kick.
The Tigers added a third touchdown of the night after a botched Lions' snap on fourth down set Marshall County up on the Columbia 11-yard line.
Marshall County pushed the ball to the one-yard line but after back-to-back goal line stands, Davis took a direct snap and was able to slice his way to the end zone to put the Tigers up 21-7 with 5:56 left in the third.
And that's when things began to go awry.
After forcing a Lion punt with 4:16 left in the third, Marshall County once again established some rhythm in the offense and appeared to be in cruise control until Columbia came up with an interception on the Marshall County two-yard line.
The very next play, a bad snap allowed the Tigers to swarm Uselton in the end zone and come up with the safety, stretching the lead to 23-7 by the end of the third quarter.
That following drive, however, stalled out and Marshall County was forced to punt the ball back to Columbia.
The Lions took that possession 80 yards in less than two minutes to the end zone, capped by a 36-yard touchdown run by Q. Martin.
Columbia successfully added on a two-point conversion with a pass to Jason Hoath Jr. to pull the home team within one possession of the Tigers' lead.
Misfortune continued to strike the Tigers after a fumble on the following kick return gave the ball back to the Lions on the Marshall County 34-yard line with 7:40 to go.
Columbia needed just two plays to find paydirt again, this time coming on a 38-yard pass reception by Kayden McCoy.
Uselton's successful two-point conversion knotted the game at 23-apiece with 6:53 left.
In addition to battling injuries among some of the Tigers' top players, Marshall County and Columbia were both plagued with cramps throughout the entire game.
“I feel like we're playing in a sauna tonight. We had a multitude of guys out for various reasons tonight. So we had a bunch of guys that played both ways with no back ups. Hats off to them for finding a way to gut it out,” Osteen said.
Both teams were also plagued with penalties, combining for 30 flags and over 230 penalty yards.
Even with the quick change in momentum in favor of the Lions, Osteen said he was proud of how his team met the challenge and answered with all kinds of adversity on the field.
“I'm real proud of our kids for finding a way to win. We built up a lead in the first half and mid-way through the third until about five minutes to go in the fourth, everything went wrong that could go wrong. It would have been real easy for us to quit or just be overcome by Columbia's momentum,” he said.
The Tigers managed just 79 yards on the ground, with Demari Braden being the top runner.
He had 41 yards on 16 carries.
Hamons completed 11 of 19 attempts passing for 117 yards along with a touchdown pass to Davis.
Davis completed 2 of 3 passes for 43 yards as well.
Marshall County will return home next Friday night and will host Shelbyville Central at 7 p.m.
Marshall Co. 7 7 9 7 — 30
Columbia 7 0 0 16 — 23
M — Devonte' Davis 25 int return, (Wyatt Joyce kick), 11:00.
C — Christian Biggers 2 run, (Max Patton kick), 1:00.
M — Davis 35 pass from Bryson Hammons, (Joyce kick), 9:41.
M — Davis 3 run, (Joyce kick), 5:56.
M — Safety, :29.
C — Q. Martin 36 run, (Jason Hoath Jr. 2pt. pass from Luke Uselton), 7:53.
C — Kayden McCoy 38 pass from Uselton, (Uselton 2pt. run), 6:53.
M — Lamarion Pierce 8 run, (Joyce kick), 1:04.