Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
SPRINGFIELD — Waynesville (5-3) showed its resiliency on Friday with a come-from-behind 28-24 win over Glendale (4-4) on the road.
Things could not have started worse for the Tigers, as they fell behind 16-0 midway through the first quarter.
First, a Gavin Watts 1-yard run gave the Falcons the quick 8-0 lead.
Then, Glendale’s Zach Highlander fought through the protection and blocked a Waynesville punt in the end zone for the safety, as the Falcons extended the lead, 10-0.
On the Falcons’ next possession, Watts bought time and found Chris Floyd for the 39-yard touchdown, and the Falcons were in control.
And then the Waynesville defense went to work.
“Well, we work hard every day in practice,” Waynesville freshman defensive lineman Jashawn Mabry-Lyles said, who finished with two key sacks. “Every week, we just put in the work.”
Waynesville’s front seven had had enough, as they dug their cleats into the turf, came off the ball, and found themselves tracking down Watts and company like a lion tracking a gazelle.
Down 16-0, on the road, in a hostile environment — some programs may find that a bit intimidating.
But not the Tigers, said Mabry-Lyles.
“Just play the game,” Mabry-Lyles said. “It was important [to set the defensive tone].”
The win was celebrated on a different apex, as the Falcons were celebrating homecoming.
And the win, well, it goes down as a conference and district win.
Added Mabry-Lyles: “Oh, it feels good. We are ready for ‘em. We are ready. This team here, they [Falcons] are good. But we came out here and played some ball.”
With the defense crashing the backfield and showing discipline on gap assignments — especially on all of the slip screens, bubble screens, and slot screens being utilized by Glendale — it was time for special teams to go to work.
After setting up textbook blocking, and a proactive approach by the punt returner, Danyl Mccullough sprinted to the ball, juked defenders and scampered his way 35 yards for the Tigers’ first score at the 3:11 mark of the second quarter.
The equation was balancing out, in favor of the visiting Tigers.
Glendale went 3-and-out on its ensuing possession, giving added life to the Tigers.
So, Tigers junior quarterback Michael Lewis called his own number.
Lewis took the rock off-tackle left, evading defenders as he sprinted for the 54-yard touchdown — showing great field vision and awareness and patience as he hit the open lanes.
The Tigers refused to relent, as they hit intermission down two, 16-14.
Glendale came into the tilt averaging 37 points per game, so shutting down one of the area’s more prolific offenses speaks volumes on the talent that resides in Tigers country.
So, how were the Tigers able to center-in and allow a mere eight points during the final 36 minutes of play?
“We realized that we shot our own toes off in the first half,” Waynesville head coach Joe Haynes said.
An unnecessary roughness call on 2nd-and-4 at midfield gave added life to the Falcons just before Floyd’s aforementioned score.
“They were up 16-0 because of our simplistic mistakes. The little things that we were not doing, and then, the light switch came on. We simply battled. That is it; every adversity that could have happened, happened,” Haynes said.
With each play, more and more laundry was tossed onto the gridiron, and the chippiness continued until the final whistle.
Penalties and turnovers were illuminated as much as a sack and explosive passing plays.
A combined total of 15 penalties and turnovers plagued both teams in the first half.
But they play four quarters for a reason.
With one minute remaining in third quarter and still down two points, once again, the Waynesville defense came up big, as Deron Anderson intercepted the Watts pass, gunning his way 70 yards to the Glendale 6-yard line.
Lewis called his number again, going off-tackle left for the score, as the Tigers had their first lead of the night, 21-16.
The Tigers’ time of possession was far below that of Glendale, but when sustainable drives needed to occur, the Tigers rose to the occasion.
After all, the win was in sight.
“They bounced back and responded,” Haynes said. “We have to respond, and we have to keep going. We can’t let our minds get caught up in the emotions, the shenanigans in the other team, the officials, we have to focus on specifics, between the lines.”
With the team needing to move the chains at two separate junctures down the stretch, again, the Tigers were open to the challenge.
With six minutes remaining, the Tigers orchestrated a nine-play drive, culminating on the Eric Richardson 44-yard touchdown scamper.
The Tigers forced another Glendale turnover six plays later, as Waynesville’s Leroy Lane came up with the pass deflection on 4th down.
As the Tigers looked to close out the gutty win, again, they needed one more play.
Facing a 4th-and-5 from the Glendale 35-yard line, Haynes went back to a player who earlier fumbled in the red zone: freshman running back Evander Bradford.
Bradford was briefly stopped in his tracks on the final play, paused, and then busted through the Glendale defensive line like a Mack truck.
With the game in the balance, Haynes knew the play to call, and it involved Bradford.
“The freshman tailback fumbling in the red zone coming out of halftime, well, he is the same guy to get his number called to get the first down at the end of the game, because we come back to our guys,” Haynes said.
The Falcons outgained gained the Tigers on offense, 323 yards to 306.
But the Tigers came up with three turnovers and scored on special teams: balancing out the Week 7 attack and complementing the offense.
The Tigers host Parkview next week for the regular-season finale.