The North Tattnall Middle School (NTMS) Warriors opened their 2022 season against their inter-county rivals from South Tattnall Middle School (STMS) on Thursday, August 25 in Reidsville.
The pregame was awash in Vegas Gold and Navy as fans from both schools flocked to see their teams. In 2021, the two teams fought to a 36-36 tie in regulation time, only to have STMS prevail in one overtime period, 44-36. As both teams had sent several players on to Tattnall County High School, the outcome of this year’s game was a mystery to most.
After winning the kickoff and deferring to the second half, NTMS used the strong leg of Jack James to boom a kick deep into South territory. Elijah Harton flew down the field and separated the ball from the ball carrier, and the players all scrambled to recover the ball. South gathered the ball, then started its first series. On first down, the white clad team served notice that it had come north to play, as Seth King ripped off a 45-yard run down the home sideline. The NTMS defense, led by Harton and James, forced STMS to punt. Then a fumbled long snap gave NTMS the ball at the STMS 45.
After a short gain by Sion Nichols, James, led by Nichols, Harton, and Akeem Jinks, swept around left end for a 17-yard gain. Harton made a rugged run to set up a second and five situation. James took the ball down to the second yard line, and Keyon Calhoun, following JJ Ansell and Henrion Pridgeon, powered into the end zone. Quarterback Lincoln Shuman faked an inside play, then rolled outside to find James on the right sideline for the two-point conversion. With about two minutes left in the quarter, NTMS had an 8-0 lead.
In three plays, STMS stormed back on the legs of MJ Murphy, who whooshed down the visitor’s sideline for a 54-yard touchdown. The extra point was no good, as MJ Foreman and Harton stopped the run short of the goal with 48 seconds left in the first quarter.
With the score standing 8-6, South kicked to Nichols, who almost broke free for a touchdown; however, a desperate, touchdown-saving strip was made, and STMS recovered the ball at its 19 yard line. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Murphy once again bedeviled the NTMS defense and ran the ball to midfield. Although Pridgeon, James, and Harton made strong plays for the defense, Murphy, facing long yardage, ran strong, broke tackles, and found pay dirt on a side-to-side 18-yard run. With only four minutes and 40 seconds remaining in the half, STMS failed to convert the point after touchdown, because Pridgeon, Harton, and James corralled the runner after a bad snap. Even so, South Tattnall still had a 12-8 advantage with little time remaining in the half.
Marcel Jackson kickstarted the offense, following blocks by Owen Tucker and Akeem Jinks, and returned the kickoff down to the STMS 40-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, James brought the home crowd to its feet by sprinting 41 yards for the go-ahead score behind an aggressive block by Harton. Lincoln Shuman connected with Jinks for the two-point conversion to raise the score to 16-12. STMS advanced the Kickoff to midfield, where the NTMS defense, with Harton, James, Calhoun, Pridgeon, and others, stiffened. Calhoun pounced on the ball carrier on fourth down to give the ball back to the Warriors of the North. With little time remaining in the half, NTMS gambled on a deep throw that linebacker JR Moore intercepted on a magnificent one-handed catch. The NTMS defense held, so the score remained 16-12 at the half.
NTMS took the ball down the field on its first possession of the second half, overcoming a called-back touchdown, but continuing to make good yardage behind offensive linemen Matthew Waters, Kenley Davis, Ansell, and Pridgeon. Nichols was excellent in his faking, and Calhoun drove the ball with power off tackle. Despite some setbacks, NTMS overcame a fourth and long situation to add to its lead when Shuman hit James for a 20-yard touchdown pass. The try for point was no good, so NT led 22-12 with under four minutes left in the third, which would become the final score.
In the remainder of the game, NTMS’s defense contained King and Murphy, forcing a punt. On the ensuing series, Shuman got loose for a 20-yard run, to put the ball at midfield. Both teams, wearing down in the humid afternoon, began to get cramps. Peyton DeFore, J’sai Cosper, and Foreman came into the ball game on offense when they were really needed. Eventually, with Calhoun and James making enough yardage behind an improving line, the clock began to wind down. NTMS took a knee to end the game. Both sides played hard and showed signs of being able to play competitive football as the season progresses.
For NTMS, Calhoun had one touchdown on 40 yards, and James had one rushing touchdown on 84 yards and a 20-yard pass reception. Sion Nichols had a splendid kickoff return, and Lincoln Shuman kept the ball safe and performed well at QB. Harton, in addition to his 40 yards rushing, added 10 tackles, a caused fumble, and three tackles for loss in a great all-around game. Calhoun made the important stop in the third quarter. Pridgeon was a force on both sides of the line, as was Ansell. James contributed 8 tackles, some for losses. Nichols had, perhaps, the hardest hits of the day on defense, with his four tackles.
Manuel Gonzalez, Marcel Jackson, Collins Shuman, and Akeem Jinks made solid contributions on the defensive side. Many players contributed through their improved performances over the last two weeks. It was an all-round team victory.
STMS will next host Metter at Sharpes Stadium next Wednesday, and NTMS will line up against Claxton at the Pecan Grove on Wednesday, also. The players and coaches invite all Tattnall fans to support them as they move through the season. Admission for all region games is $5 for middle school; the games begin at 5 p.m.