It felt like a playoff game in the "House of Pain" Friday as captains Cason DeVane and Justin Moore slowly walked toward WACO offensive lineman/defensive lineman Seth Watts, who earlier in the week committed to the University of Georgia.
There were no empty seats to be found as Washington County fans packed the entire home side and the majority of the visitor seating. While the outnumbered Tiger faithfuls awaited the opening kickoff, the 26-point Swainsboro underdogs won the toss and chose to kickoff and take the ball at the half.
DeVane lined up his squad and prepared to kick the ball into the wall of black ahead. Only his second kickoff of the year, fell short of the endzone by only a few yards as the crowd got on its feet and the game was off to a booming start.
It seemed as though the clock never stopped running in the first quarter. Both teams ran the ball the majority of the 12 minutes. Washington attempted four passes and completed two--one for 20 yards and another for 10. The first quarter ended with no score. It was then that the Swainsboro coaching staff, players and most of the fans realized that they had to start trying to win rather than trying not to lose.
The second quarter was totally different than the first as both teams opened their playbooks and began trying to attack their opposition. The scoreboard remained unchanged until the clock read 6:06 left in the half as Washington County punched it in from the 1-yard line and made the extra point to cap off a nine-play, 56-yard drive and take the lead 7-0.
Swainsboro did not let the touchdown deter them as they drove the ball right down the Hawks' throats to their 26-yard line. Albert Webb took the hand off from there and broke a game-tying touchdown run. DeVane booted the extra point through the middle of the uprights.
Before the season began, the Swainsboro coaching staff and players talked about how quick and strong the defense was and how hard it was going to be to score on them. That talk has been proven true over these last three weeks. The Tiger defense shutout Vidalia's intense ground attack in week one and held the quick Statesboro charge to 7 points in week two.
After the Hawks scoring drive, they were forced to punt by the stingy defense led by Tavares Jones, Raja Andrews and Justin Moore. The Tigers took advantage of the opportunity to take a lead into the locker room at half time and scored when Leon Williams took a hand off that looked like it would be stuffed in the backfield 72 yards for the second Tiger score of the game. DeVane made the extra point and put Swainsboro up 14-7 with 1:57 left in the half.
DeVane kicked off to WACO and shut down their offense again forcing a punt. DeVane and his offense then saw a clear picture of how much better a 21-7 lead at the half would be than a 14-7 lead, so they began charging down the field quickly.
Offensive coordinator Brandon Jernigan then called a play that Tiger fans don't see very often called the flea-flicker. DeVane took the snap and tossed to Webb around the right end, but Webb turned back to DeVane after only a couple of steps and tossed it back. DeVane then dropped back and delivered a perfect pass to Andrews who was getting dangerously close to the Hawks' endzone with one-on-one coverage. The pass fell incomplete after Andrews was interfered with by a Washington County defender.
The flags flew and the Tigers received 15 yards and a first down. DeVane then connected with Moore for five yards, Jones for 20 yards and Jeffrey Webb on an outstanding catch for 12 yards to give the Tigers first down and goal from the 2-yard line.
The next event was a scary moment for Tiger fans, coaches and players as quarterback and kicker DeVane lay flat on his back squirming around on the ground in obvious agony. Trainers rushed the scene, and it seemed liked decades passed while he lay on the ground almost motionless. Then he was lifted and carried off the field by SHS trainers. Though hopes had been cut short by DeVane's injury the Tigers still needed to score one last time before the half.
Head Coach Shane Williamson called on Moore, last year's quarterback who shared time with DeVane, to finish the drive. With only a few seconds left on the clock and zero timeouts, the Tigers tried to catch the WACO defense sleeping with another trick play. This time a fumble rooskie attempt was unsuccessful as the clock ran out.
At the half, the Tigers led 14-7. When the second half began, the Tigers took the kickoff. Moore lined up at quarterback, but only for a few plays. Much to everyone's surprise, DeVane took the field with a heavily taped left ankle. He then led the Tiger offense, better known as the "Pain Train," down the field where they were forced to attempt a field goal that was blocked.
WACO then fired back with a score of their own when Chris Boss carried the ball five yards for the score. The extra point was no good and the Tiger lead had been cut to 14-13.
Not holding anything back, Tiger play callers then stretched the defense and DeVane hooked up with Andrews for 52 yards and what appeared to be a touchdown, but was ruled down at the 2-yard line. DeVane then punched it in behind his offensive line for the score and made it 21-13 after another good extra point by DeVane, which is how the third quarter ended.
The fourth quarter was one of the most dramatic quarters in Tiger football history. The Hawks drove the ball well, but could not manage a touchdown as they were forced to punt the ball away. A 53-yard punt penned the Tigers inside their own 5-yard line, where Albert Webb was tackled in the endzone for a safety. That changed the score to 21-15 in favor of the Tigers with 7:14 left in the game.
Now only six points down, Rick Tomberlin and his team knew that a score and a good extra point would put them ahead. After the free kick which was drilled into the endzone by DeVane, they began driving the Tigers downfield.
Again, not able to score, the ball was turned over and the Tigers took over. They were forced to punt with less than a minute left in the game. Ashley Denney got off a booming punt with a high spiral that soared 47 yards only to be muffed and recovered by Swainsboro deep in Washington County territory. The Tigers then persisted in running out the clock as Cason DeVane took a knee on the ball with approximately :12 left on the clock while Washington County fans, players and coaches watched in disbelief the clock expired. The buzzer sound was overcome by the excited screams and victory chants of Tiger fans and players as they all rushed the field. The scoreboard read Swainsboro 21, Washington County 15.
Webb took 21 carries for 75 yards and one touchdown in the game as Leon Williams took four carries for 82 yards and a touchdown. DeVane was 4-6 passing for 90 yards. He also had one rushing touchdown. Moore caught one pass for five yards. Tavares Jones caught one pass for 20 yards; Jeffrey Webb had one reception for 12 yards and Raja Andrews led the Tigers in the receiving column with one catch for 52 yards.
On the defensive side, to no one's surprise, Jones led the Tigers in tackles with 11 solos and six assists. Andrews ran a close second with eight solo tackles, six assists and the only sack the Tigers recorded all night. Moore recorded six solo tackles. The big story of the night was Derek Smith, a freshman who started the game at linebacker in place of injured Markie Ford and had a very solid showing with five solo tackles and four assists.
The Tigers take their big win and massive amount of momentum into this week's game against Richmond Hill at Tiger Field in Swainsboro. Kickoff is set for 7:30 pm.