By Michael V. Hannigan/HCN
MALAKOFF — Interview as many football coaches as I have and you will eventually hear that games, especially close games, come down to a handful of plays. Those plays can happen at anytime, on offense, defense or special teams and you never know which plays are the crucial ones until the game is over.
Friday night, that truism came to life in Malakoff.
In the second quarter, Malakoff’s Ethan Snow intercepted Rusk quarterback Andreas Garrett and the Tigers took the ball down the field and scored on a Zee Bailey run. On the ensuing PAT kick attempt, Rusk was called for a penalty and the ball was moved to the 1 yard line. Malakoff Coach Jamie Driskell immediately sent his offense back out for a 2-pt attempt, which Judd Miller converted running up the middle.
That was one of those plays. Because of that second quarter 2-pt conversion, Rusk was down 2 after scoring a touchdown with just 20 seconds left in the game. The Eagles had to try for the 2-pt attempt and failed.
Final score: Malakoff 29 – Rusk 27.
Which goes to show you, there’s a reason coaches say the things they say.
Here are some of my other observations from the sidelines in Malakoff Friday night:
– The Tiger defense came up big against a very good Rusk offense. There were five times throughout the game that Rusk had the ball inside the Malakoff 30 yard line and the Tigers turned them back.
– In addition to Ethan Snow’s pick, the Tigers got interceptions from Zee Bailey and Iverson Sparks. Sparks took his to the end zone, but it was called back for an illegal block on the return.
– Speaking of Sparks, he laid a hit on a Rusk receiver in the third quarter that brought the Malakoff crowd to life with one, massive “Ohhhhhhhh.” It was a perfect form tackle, just the way they teach.
– The Malakoff offense got moving in the fourth quarter behind a physical running attack, led by Judd Miller, Zee Bailey and R.J. Carr. Miller scored two rushing touchdowns in the fourth, including a 10-yard run where the Rusk defense had him at the 3, but he refused to go down.
– You might have noticed Zee Bailey’s name all over this column. That’s because he was all over the game and was a vital component on both offense and defense for the Tigers.
– The first touchdown of the night for Malakoff came on a wide receiver screen to Jaquaylon Hart. Hart is another one of those players who had a big game on both sides of the ball.
– Sometimes it is hard to see a coach’s influence on the game unless you are part of the inner circle and have actually seen the game plan, but there were some overt coaching decisions tonight. First, you could see Malakoff wanted to keep their players as rested as possible, so from the very start of the game players were rotating in and out on almost every play. Then there was Driskell’s decision to go for 2 in the second quarter. Finally, the decision to pound the running game in the fourth quarter. All three moves were key in a close game.
– Finally, Malakoff basketball and cross country coaching legend DeArtis “The Dean” Nickerson was at the game. That doesn’t have anything to do with the football game, but Coach Nick is worth mentioning whenever I see him.