ATHENS — After relying on defense and special teams, Tyler Junior College took the opening possession of the second half and moved the ball with ease. Just like that, the Apaches took an 18-point lead and appeared on the way to another win.
Then everything unraveled.
On a crisp and bright fall afternoon, TJC's hopes for staying unbeaten turned overwhelmingly bleak with the top playoff seed on the line. The third-ranked Apaches allowed 42 unanswered points in a 55-31 loss to No. 17 Trinity Valley in a Southwest Junior College Football Conference showdown Saturday at Bruce Field.
In front of a packed TVCC homecoming audience, TJC (7-1, 4-1) took a 31-13 lead with 11:36 left in the third quarter when Terrance Taylor scored from 14 yards away to complete the Apaches' most impressive drive of the game. But things were never the same as TJC fell victim to the opposing passing attack, turnovers and a controversial call.
"We made too many penalties and made too many mistakes to beat a good football team," Apaches coach Danny Palmer said. "I give them credit. They did a great job of coming back."
TVCC (6-2, 5-1) quarterback Ryan Polite finished 26 of 51 for 407 yards and accounted for four touchdowns (three passing). The sophomore from DeSoto got help from a defense that intercepted TJC quarterback Matt Davis (playing for injured starter Randy Price) twice in the second half, once with the Apaches driving for a third-quarter insurance score while still holding the lead.
"I'm so proud of the guys and so happy for them," said Cardinals coach Brad Smiley, whose team has won five consecutive. "We had a great week of preparation. …I got a group of guys who've never flinched, all season long."
TVCC's Josh Pickett returned a fumble 31 yards to the end zone with less than three minutes remaining to complete the resounding second half. That followed a controversial call on which TVCC advanced a blocked punt – which set up a score — despite the ball seeming to cross the line of scrimmage.
"We blocked the punt and if the ball was over the line of scrimmage and they caught it and (the refs) gave it to him, then that was a bad call," Palmer said. "But that didn't cost us the game. We couldn't block them in the second half. "
TJC's Taylor finished with 27 carries for 110 yards and the touchdown, while fellow running back Leroy Dobbins had 10 carries for 56 yards before leaving the game just before the break. TVCC's top playmakers included receivers Jataveon Green (seven receptions, 85 yards, TD) and Jarvis Baxter (4 receptions, 80 yards, TD).
TJC took a 24-13 lead into the break without generating much offense and going 0 for 7 on third downs. The reason: defense and special teams.
On the game's first play, Apaches sophomore linebacker Caleb Tuiasosopo jumped on a Polite fumble and returned the ball three yards for a 7-0 lead with only 11 seconds having expired from the clock. TJC's second score came with 9:24 remaining in the second quarter, thanks to Devante Davis tipping a Polite pass to himself and returning the ball 44 yards for a score.
On special teams, the Apaches blocked a punt inside TVCC's 20 and scored their first offensive TD one play later on a 6-yard run by Dobbins.
The Apaches finished the half with only 85 total yards, including only 21 carries for 64 yards and a 0-for-7 performance on third downs. TJC's defense spent much of the half on the field; the Apaches had only 29 plays compared to TVCC's 60.
"Our defense stayed on the field too long," Palmer said. "We got some running backs beat up and got a quarterback hurt, but they are still a very, very good football team."
Trinity Valley 55, Tyler Junior College 31
At Bruce Field, Athens
TJC 10 14 7 0 31
TVCC 3 10 15 27 55
TJC – Caleb Tuiasosopo 3 fumble return (Lumi Kaba kick), 14:49
TJC – FG Kaba 38, 9:37
TVCC – FG Dylan McClain 22, :26
TVCC – FG McClain 39, 14:48
TJC – Devante Davis 44 interception return (Kaba kick), 9:24
TJC – Leroy Dobbins 6 run (Kaba kick), 3:52
TVCC – Jarvis Baxter 12 pass from Ryan Polite (McClain kick), 2:38
TJC – Terrance Taylor 14 run (Kaba kick), 11:36
TVCC – Trent Moman 26 pass from Polite (Luis Lopez run), 10:00
TVCC – Jataveon Green 34 pass from Polite (McClain kick), 3:45
TVCC – Jeff Harris 41 run (Lopez kick), 14:09
TVCC – Polite 3 run (McClain kick), 11:18
TVCC – Marquel McNac 24 run (McClain kick), 4:08
TVCC – Josh Pickett 31 fumble return (run failed), 2:54
First Downs 20 25
Rushes-Yards 49-174 26-152
Passing Yards 78 407
Comp-Att.-Int. 11-26-2 26-51-1
Punts-Avg. 10-40.2 3-42.3
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 1-1
Penaties-Yards 14-165 14-140
RUSHING – TJC, Terrance Taylor 27-110, Leroy Dobbins 10-56, Matt Davis 9-6, Chaston Bennett 3-2. TVCC, Marquel McNac 4-33, Jeff Harris 4-50, Luis Lopez 6-36, Trent Momon 1-8, Tavarreon Dickerson 3-6, Ryan Polite 6-4, Josh Caldwell 1-2, Jataveon Green 1-(-5).
PASSSING – TJC, Davis 9-19-2—57, Randy Price 2-7-0—21. TVCC, Polite 26-51-1—407.
RECEIVING – TJC, Jonathan Epps 6-45, Lamar Carraway 3-17, Joshua Reynolds 2-16. TVCC, Green 7-85, Jarvis Baxter 4-80, Franklyn Okafor 3-40, Paul Barksdale 3-17, John Thomas 2-33,McNac 2-34, Dickerson 1-35, Nate Pickett 1-32, Momon 1-26, Christian Taylor 1-15, Harris 1-10.