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For the third time in six seasons the Tucker Tigers trek to the Georgia Dome to play for a state title as they take on the Creekside Seminoles at 8:30 p.m. on Friday in a battle of undefeated finalists.
The two teams are both 14-0 on the season with Tucker coming in as the No. 1 ranked team in Class AAAAA while Creekside is No. 4.
Tucker shut down an explosive No. 3 ranked and defending state champion Gainesville offense led by DeShaun Watson, the career passing leader in Georgia, in the second half last Friday night at Hallford Stadium while rallying from an early 14-0 deficit on the way to a 20-14 victory. Gainesville was averaging 49 points per game on the season and Tucker held the Red Elephants to its lowest total of the season, tying Buford which also held them to 14 points.
Defense has been the staple for this Tiger team all season and it had allowed just 20 points total in the first three games of the playoffs in wins over Heritage-Conyers (35-7), East Paulding (16-13) and Ware County (29-0).
Creekside rolled past No. 2 ranked Kell by a score of 55-10 and comes into the finals averaging 47.3 points in its first four playoff games.
Creekside has allowed a total of 59 points in the state playoffs including wins of 47-14 over Lakeside-Evans, 42-21 over Harris County and 41-14 over North Paulding.
The two teams have met in the postseason just once in 1999 and Creekside won that game 27-22 to advance to the quarterfinals that season.
Tucker has put together an impressive playoff run over the past seven seasons (2007-2013) going 23-4 since missing the playoffs in 2006. The Tigers are 44-32 overall in the state playoffs as a program.
The offense is led by quarterback Joseph Farrar who had two touchdown passes in the semifinals along with running back Elijah Sullivan and the quick strike duo of Dominick Sanders (two touchdowns in win over Gainesville) and Yaquis Shelley.
Detric Dukes, a Georgia commit, and Kirk Tucker, a Stanford commit, are the leaders on defense along with Sanders and Shelley. Dukes harassed Gainesville's Deshaun Watson in the semifinal victory coming up with a pair of sacks and tackles for a loss. Sanders had two interceptions to aid the victory.
Shelley who has three kickoff returns, a punt return and two interception returns for touchdowns is a big threat when kicked to and had a big punt return to set up the Tigers' winning drive against Gainesville.
Tickets for the state championship game are $18 on presale at the schools and $20 on Ticketmaster or at the Georgia Dome.
Class 5A State Championship
Friday, Dec. 13
Tucker (14-0) vs. Creekside (14-0), Georgia Dome, 8:30 p..m
Dominick Sanders scored in the pouring rain with 2:22 to play to give the No. 1 ranked Tucker Tigers a 20-14 victory over No. 3 ranked Gainesville in the Class AAAAA high school football state playoff semifinals at Hallford Stadium on Friday night.
The Tigers were in trouble early on finding themselves down 14-0 with 10:36 to play in the first half against the Georgia career passing record holder Deshaun Watson and his Red Elephant teammates. The score might have been worse but an interception in the corner of the end zone by Sanders on Gainesville's opening drive and a big sack by Detric Dukes on Gainesville's second drive of the game forced a long field goal that fell well short.
Watson had scored on a nine-yard run in the first quarter and then tossed a 26 yard touchdown pass on fourth and 12 which receiver Jay Gaudlock made a diving, one-handed catch in the end zone early in the second quarter for the 14-0 lead.
Special teams played a big role in rallying the Tigers in the first half as Yaquis Shelley returned the kickoff 72 yards to the Gainesville 24 to set up the Tucker's first score.
Tucker got the Gainesville defense all stacked close to the line on second and eight at the 10 and slipped tight end Detric Dukes free into the end zone where quarterback Joseph Farrar tossed him an easy pass for the score.
The two teams went into the half tied at 14-14 as Kirk Tucker picked up the third interception of the half against Watson as the half ended.
The Tucker defense which had gradually began to figure out the Gainesville offense as the half was coming to close flexed its muscles and speed in the second half limiting the vaunted Gainesville attack to just 42 yards of offense (40 passing, 2 rushing). The Tigers did this by making five plays on the Elephants that lost yardage in the second half, most on sacks of Watson.
It was the Tigers who went to the air late in the third quarter when facing a third and seven at their own 23. Farrar rolled to his right and found Sanders along the sideline for a 40-yard pass play to the Gainesville 37.
Three plays later on third and five from the 33 Farrar faked, dropped back and threw down the middle of the field to a streaking Sanders again. Sanders looked over his left shoulder and had to turn back to his right to haul in the pass as he crossed the goal line. Eric Weber added to his county scoring record, now at 95, as his kick was good to knot the game at 14-14.
The two teams traded punts and Gainesville was facing a third and four at its own 40 with seven minutes to play and the Tigers stopped Watson for no gain to force another punt.
Shelley caught the punt and returned it 25 yards to the Tucker 47 as the rain began to fall with 6:55 to play. Tucker began a 12 play drive in the rain with Raquan Rush's run of 13 yards to the Gainesville 27 being the longest play of the drive.
Sanders touchdown with 2:22 gave Watson and his offense once last shot, but on second down a pass long downfield was snared by Sanders, his second against Watson on the night, and the Tigers ran out the clock.
The Tigers improved to 14-0 for just the second time in the program's history, the only other time coming in its undefeated championship season of 2011.
Tucker moves into the Class AAAAA championship game to face undefeated and No. 4 ranked Creekside (14-0), which took apart No. 2 ranked Kell 55-10, on Friday, December 13 at 8:30 p.m. at the Georgia Dome.
One of the most anticipated games of the Class AAAAA state high school football playoffs as the No. 1 ranked Tucker Tigers host the No. 3 ranked and defending champions Gainesville Red Elephants on Friday night at Hallford Stadium in Clarkston at 7:30 p.m. with a spot in the state championship game on the line.
It will be the first meeting between the two teams which have won state championships in the past two years. Tucker won the Class AAAA state title in 2011 while Gainesville won the Class AAAAA title in 2012.
Tucker (13-0) is coming off an impressive 29-0 win over Ware County (11-2) last Friday at Hallford Stadium in which the defense allowed just three first downs and 101 yards of offense to a Gator team that had scored 49 points in a first round win over Bainbridge and 35 in a second round victory over Northside-Warner Robins. Tucker is 2-0 all-time against the Gators in the state playoffs including a 42-3 win in the 2010 playoffs.
It is the third season in the history of the Tucker football program the team has reached the 13-0 plateau. Tucker was 13-0 in 1994 under Mike Falleur before losing in the state semifinals and finished 15-0 in 2011 while winning the Class AAAA state title under Franklin Stephens. Coach Bryan Lamar's squad has gone 23-3 in his two seasons at the helm including a quarterfinal appearance a year ago.
Tucker is 43-32 overall in the state playoffs and 10-1 over the past three seasons in the postseason as they make their fifth appearance in the state semifinals in seven years (2007-2013).
The Tiger defense has given up just 20 points in the three games in the playoffs and has over 100 tackles for a loss and over 50 sacks on the season. Seniors Justin Hughes and Kirk Tucker and junior Maurice Williams all have double digit tackles for a loss while junior Elijah Sullivan along with Tucker and Williams all have eight or more sacks on the season.
Senior Dominick Sanders leads the team with six interceptions (1 for a touchdown) followed by junior Yaquis Shelley with five (3 for touchdowns) and Stephen Reynolds has four picks.
The Tiger defense must face a Gainesville (12-1) offense led by Georgia career passing leader Deshaun Watson that is averaging 40.3 points a game in the state playoffs.
Tucker's offense is piloted by senior quarterback Joseph Farrar (10 touchdowns rushing after two against Ware and over 500 yards rushing and over 800 passing with 8 touchdowns), running back Elijah Sullivan (13 touchdowns on over 600 yards rushing) and Dominick Sanders (12 touchdowns and over 500 yards on the ground).
Gainesville defense has allowed 14, 12 and 28 points in the three wins against Martin Luther King Jr., South Paulding and Mundy's Mill.
The Tiger special teams are led by return men Yaquis Shelley and Dominick Sanders and place kicker Eric Webber. Shelley has four kickoff returns (87, 78, 68 and 99 yards) for touchdowns on the season with one punt return (57 yards) while Sanders has a pair of punt returns for touchdowns (76 and 47 yards).
Webber became the DeKalb County record holder for kicking points in a season with 92 as he kicked two field goals and two extra points in the 29-0 win over Ware County. He broke the 2008 record of 90 set by Dunwoody's Austin Breed. He is 62 of 65 on extra points and 10 of 11 on field goals with his first miss of the season coming against Ware County as a high snap led to a kick going wide right.
All tickets for the state semifinals are $15 per person.
Football State Playoffs Schedule
Friday, December 6
Gainesville (12-1) vs. Tucker (13-0), Hallford, 7:30 p.m.
The No. 1 ranked Tucker Tigers allowed Ware County just three first downs on the way to a 29-0 victory in the Class AAAAA high school state quarterfinals on Friday at Hallford Stadium.
Defense is the key thus far in the state playoffs for Tucker as the Tigers have allowed just 20 points in three games and collected nine tackles for a loss in the game against the Gators from Ware County that had scored 35 points against Northside-Warner Robins in the second round and 49 in the opening round against Bainbridge.
Ware opened the game with a three and out against the Tiger defense and Tucker promptly marched 50 yards to take the lead for good.
A 23-yard run by Yaquis Shelley on second and 12 at the Tiger 48 moved the ball to the Gators' 29 and with runs of 6 and 18 by quarterback Joseph Farrar the Tigers were set up first and goal at the 5-yard line. Farrar went the final five on third down for the score. Eric Webber tacked on the point after for a 7-0 Tiger lead with 7:45 to play in the first quarter.
Another three and out forced by the Tucker defense and the Tigers had good field position at their own 46. Elijah Sullivan break away for a 23-yard run in the drive and Dominick Sanders added 14 as the Tigers moved to the Ware 4-yard line. Three plays later Farrar got into the end zone for the second time on a two-yard keeper. Webber again tacked on the point after as he moved closer to the DeKalb County single season points by kicking record to make it 14-0 with 2:32 left in the first quarter.
The Tigers found the offensive going a little tougher the rest of the half and a high snap on a 34-yard field goal attempt ended in a miss with 2:50 left in the first half. It was Webber's first miss of the season.
Ware County would then pick up two of its three first downs in the game on the ensuing drive on pass plays covering 34 and 26 yards, but the Tiger defense stiffened to force a field goal try on fourth and four at the Tiger 9. A mishandled snap forced a run attempt, but Tucker's Stephen Reynolds stopped it short and the Tigers ran out the final 16 seconds of the half.
Tucker opened the second half driving to the Ware 19 where the drive stalled and Webber came on and kicked a 36-yard field goal to give Tucker a 17-0 lead with 8:13 to play in the third quarter.
The two teams traded punts and Ware was backed up at its own 6-yard line facing a third and 8 when the Tiger defensive pressure forced an intentional grounding penalty in the end zone to collect a safety for a 19-0 lead with 3:58 left in the third quarter.
Tucker drove down to the Ware 25 and Webber trotted out on fourth and 10 for a 42-yard field goal attempt that would give him the new record. His kick was high and through the uprights for the record and a 22-0 Tucker lead with 10:23 to play in the game.
Two possessions later Yaquis Shelley intercepted a pass and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown with 6:55 to play. Webber tacked on the point after to make the final of 29-0. It was Shelley's third interception return for a touchdown on the season.
Tucker moves on to play defending Class AAAAA state champion Gainesville (12-1), a 42-28 winner over Mundy's Mill (8-5).
Football State Playoffs Schedule
Friday, November 30
Tucker (13-0) 29, Ware Co. (11-2) 0
It was a once in a lifetime meeting for Towers head football coach James Holloway last Saturday night as he, his staff and four team captains set down with ESPN NFL football analyst Jon Gruden.
Towers was one of four high schools in the Atlanta Metro Atlanta chosen to meet with Gruden including Therrell, Osborne and Forest Park. The staffs and players met with Gruden, who is town to announce the Monday Night Football game between the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets, met with him at Hooters in downtown Atlanta for two hours on Saturday evening.
The four schools were chosen with the help of local media and coaches to meet Gruden who asked for schools showing improvement while battling against demographic and monetary odds.
Gruden won Super Bowl XXXVII as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and has a career record of 95-81 in 18 seasons including stops at Oakland and Tampa. He won five division championships along the way.
After being fired by the Buccaneers in 2009, he was hired to be a NFL television analyst for ESPN where he works on Monday Night Football.
"It was a great time for everyone," said Holloway. "Being able to sit down and talk to a Super Bowl champion coach and get ideas from him on building a program is something that only comes around once in a lifetime."
Gruden spoke to the coaching staffs and players about being tough and working on fundamentals.
"He said he knew how tough it is to build a program, but that we had to keep on keeping on," said Holloway. "He gave a general overview on building a program and being not only tough physically but mentally and honing the fundamentals of the game."
Besides enjoying a free buffet meal, each team received a camera for filming practice, dry fit shirts and a $1,000 check donation to aid the programs and "Keep the Game Strong".Holloway brought his staff of Emmanuel Lewis, Mark Evans, Eric Brinn and William Ward along with players Jeffery Lovett, Stevenson Derival, Daemyon Hassell and Emmanuel Badru.
"The staff and players all enjoyed the event," said Holloway. "Of course the players are a bit young to appreciate the contributions to football and the history Gruden made as a coach. It was a great event and means so much to our program as we try to build it into a winner and playoff contender."
Towers is currently 4-2 on the season after going winless a year ago and is having its best year since the 2009 playoff season.
DeKalb County School District is renown in the state of Georgia for its football accomplishments on and off the field.
The school district boasts 12 state titles and repeatedly puts out state title contenders and Top 10 ranked football programs from year to year.
Avondale (1958, 1963, 1976) and Lakeside (1970, 1972, 1991) have both won three state championships to combine for six of the 12 claimed by DeKalb County Schools.
Southwest DeKalb follows right behind with two state titles (1972, 1995) and with its 2011 Class AAAA state title Tucker joined in with two (2008, 2011). Tucker (2011) and Dunwoody (1993) are the only two DeKalb teams to go 15-0 in a season.
Dunwoody (1993) and Redan (1979) round out the state title holders with one title each.
Seventeen of the current 19 DeKalb County High Schools hold playoff appearances during their football histories. M.L. King Jr., the second newest school in the county, made its first appearance in the state playoffs in 2003 after winning the Region 5-AAA title.
DeKalb County also tops the state in talent produced and athletes signing scholarships to continue their education and athletic careers on the next level. College coaches from across the Southeast and many other parts of the country find academically qualified athletes every year as they visit games and the annual DeKalb County Schools Football Video Forum for college scouts.
The 2013 DeKalb County signing class totaled 122 signatures as the district surpassed the century mark for the fourth consecutive year. The previous three years totals were 119 (2010), 120 (2011) and 132 (2012).
photos by Mark Brock