By Michael V. Hannigan/HCN
LONGVIEW — At this rate, someone is going to have to trademark the phrase “Malakoff Tough.”
The Malakoff Tigers fought off another schedule change, bad weather and a strong second half by Atlanta to beat the Rabbits, 37-22, and earn the school’s second Regional Championship Saturday afternoon.
“Their kids showed a lot of heart, they didn’t quit,” said Malakoff Coach Jamie Driskell. “They hit us in the mouth a little bit early in the third quarter and we made a couple of mistakes, but our kids fought back.”
“Both teams showed a lot of heart,” Driskell said, “and our kids showed a little bit of mental toughness in these conditions.”
Malakoff broke out to a 21-0 lead behind a dominating ground game and led 31-6 at the half. The Tigers never led by less than 15 throughout.
Here are my 10 Observations from a second-straight Saturday afternoon game.
— Nothing has come easy for the Tigers this year. The schedule has been made up on the fly because of bad weather and at times the roster has been the same way because of injuries. The Tigers have had multiple chances to fold and nobody would have blamed them if they did. Instead, they keep finding ways to stay together and win. One week it is pounding the ball on the ground, the next week it is big plays in the passing game, and always the defense getting a stop when it needs one. You expect incredible effort from a team when you get to this stage in the playoffs, but the mental toughness now being displayed by the Tigers was forged throughout the season and might be the most impressive thing about this run.
— Tough football equals physical football, and that’s what Malakoff played Saturday. The Tigers gained over 400 yards on the ground, according to my unofficial stats. We’ll get to the running backs, but first let’s give the offensive line its props. They have been the dominant unit in this playoff run, I believe.
— Malakoff had three running backs with runs of 20-plus yards and a combined 11 runs of more than 10 yards. R.J. Carr in his first game since the second week of the season had 179 yards rushing and two touchdowns, Keevie Rose had 126 yards and two touchdowns, and Darion Peace had 92 yards and a touchdown.
— Did you see both R.J. Carr and Darion Peace have runs where they hurdled over Rabbit defenders? Also, Carr ran out of his shoe on his 39-yard run in the first quarter.
— Malakoff’s scoring plays included:
- Darion Peace 8-yard run, 8:13 1Q
- Keevie Rose 6-yard run, 6:50 1Q
- R.J. Carr 44-yard run, 11:50 2Q
- Keevie Rose 15-yard run, 8:19 2Q
- Hector Romero 20-yard field goal, :09 2Q
- R.J. Carr 7-yard run, 5:53 3Q
— The Malakoff defense was outstanding in the first half, holding Atlanta to just over 100 yards of offense and 6 points. And although the Rabbits were able to break off a couple of big plays in the second half, the Tigers stopped Atlanta on a big fourth down late in the game when D.K. Rose and Colby Rush tacked the Rabbit quarterback short of the sticks.
— The Tigers couldn’t have asked for a better start to the game. Malakoff’s Caleb Adams blocked Atlanta’s first punt attempt, setting up the Tigers first touchdown. Then on the next possession, Nathan Jones intercepted the Rabbits to set up Malakoff’s second score. That 14-0 lead came about 5 minutes into the game and buoyed the Tigers throughout.
— I have to give a shout out to Malakoff senior lineman Kyler Dalrymple. You don’t often notice linemen unless they do something wrong, but I saw Kyler show exactly the character you want from a football player on two separate plays Saturday. Early in the game, he showed sportsmanship when he stopped to help an Atlanta player fix his jersey. Later in the game, during the Rabbits’ last gasp, Kyler broke through the line and hit the Atlanta quarterback just as he was throwing the ball, causing it to flutter high in the air. Malakoff wasn’t able to come down with the interception, but it was still an excellent play by Kyler. Sportsmanship, aggressiveness and toughness; yeah, that will win you a lot of ball games and make you proud at the end.
— I’ve written before about the impact of Malakoff’s fans, so let’s let Coach Driskell say it this time. “The fans were awesome,” Driskell said. “They were loud and we had a ton of people here. The town is rallying behind these kids and that’s kind of what needs to happen right here.”
— Next up for Malakoff is Brock. The game is tentatively set for 4 p.m. Friday at The Star in Frisco.