Joaquin overcomes West Sabine to advance in playoffs
NACOGDOCHES — Maybe it was frustration. Maybe it was being sick of hearing how they haven’t been past the first round of the playoffs since 2009.
Maybe they just don’t like the color orange. Whatever “it” was, the Joaquin Rams used it to power themselves to a 42-0 Bi-District playoff win over the West Sabine Tigers here at Dragon Stadium Friday night.
Playing like a team with something to prove, the Rams dominated the game in every phase, holding the Tigers and their outstanding quarterback Dailon Smith to 234 yards of offense. The “Big Blue Machine” offense had a pretty good night as well, rolling up 601 rushing yards against an overwhelmed Tiger defense.
By halftime, the RAMNATION had seemingly forgotten about the nine-year drought of playoff wins and was instead focused on “Who’s next?”.
The Rams started the game off in impressive fashion, stuffing the Tiger offense and forcing a punt, after which they took over at their own 35 yard line. They used nine plays to move 65 yards, with senior fullback Joseph Tarver capping things off with a one yard touchdown plunge.
The Tigers used a halfback pass to move into Ram territory on their next possession, but the Ram defense stood tall and forced a turnover-on-downs at their own 16. A 55 yard run by Tarver set up a 19 yard touchdown run by Hunter Gates, giving the Rams a 14-0 lead after Jesus Bravo booted his second PAT of the game.
A fumble by the Rams on their next possession set the Tigers up in great shape at the Joaquin 41, but they failed to cash in and turned it over on downs again at the Ram 10. Tarver raced 77 yards on the next snap to set up a four yard run by quarterback Trenton Ramsey, giving the Rams a 21-0 lead with just under five minutes left in the first half.
The teams headed to the locker room with the Rams up 21-0. The Rams essentially “nailed the coffin shut” on the first play of the second half, when junior tailback Connor Bragg scampered 51 yards for a touchdown. Bravo made it 28-0, and it became apparent that the Rams would be moving on to the next round. Bragg would add another score in the third quarter, and Tarver would finish things off with six yard run to start the fourth.
Rams Head Coach Wade Lawson talked about the significance of “getting over the first round hump.”
“I couldn’t be any prouder of our kids,” Lawson said. “We challenged them before we came out tonight, to not just win this game, but to dominate it. We wanted to dominate, for 48 minutes, in all three phases of the game.
“You have to play that kind of football this time of year, because anybody can beat you on any given night,” he said. “I was really proud of the way our kids played tonight. We had a big hiccup right in the middle of district play, and I think we learned a valuable lesson from that, that on any given night, you can be beaten.”
Lawson said there are a lot of good football teams in this region.
“But I’m just really proud of our kids,” he said. “The way they’ve responded I think really showed their character, and they put a lot of hard work into tonight.”
Lawson talked about the offensive dominance, and what led to the mind-boggling rushing total.
“It’s those guys up front. No doubt about it,” Lawson said. “We always say that that’s where we make our hay, that front seven and the other backs getting on their blocks and staying with them.
“Joseph (Tarver) made some great runs, he made some great cuts, he’s a strong runner. I know he’s only 145 pounds but he runs strong and takes care of the ball,” he said. “But as happy as I am with the offense, I’m much happier with the defense.
“We gave up a few big plays, but we bowed our necks when they got inside the 25, and kept the shutout intact,”Lawson said. “And that’s big for a team like us this time of year. Anytime you can leave a goose egg on their side of the board, you’ve had a good night.
“I’ve got to give credit to Coach Jones and his defensive coaches, they had a great game plan and our kids played hard and pursued well,” Lawson said.
Senior Joseph Tarver led the Ram offense with 247 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries. Junior Connor Bragg had a big night as well, 162 yards and two scores on nine attempts. Senior Hunter Gates added 66 yards and a score on nine tries, while junior Gunnar Nelson picked up 62 yards on eight carries.
The defense was led by sophomore tackle Blake Cummings, who recorded eight tackles, including one for a loss. Connor Bragg made seven tackles, while Logan Harper and Boogie Lane each recorded six. Lane and Harper each made three tackles for a loss. Trenton Ramsey and Cesar Arcibar each notched an interception as well.
On a historic night that saw all five Shelby County teams in playoff action for the first time ever, the Rams were one of only two teams to advance. The Center RoughRiders fell to the Liberty Panthers 55-28, and the Timpson Bears were defeated by the San Augustine Wolves 40-12.
In a battle between the other two county teams, the Tenaha Tigers eliminated the Shelbyville Dragons by a score of 49-18. That sets up two Area Round Playoff games. The Tenaha Tigers (8-3) will take on the Centerville Tigers (8-3) Friday night at Palestine’s Wildcat Stadium. Centerville won the District 9AA Division 1 championship.
The Joaquin Rams (9-2) will square off with the Carlisle Indians (11-0) at 7:00 p.m. Friday at Bulldog Stadium in Carthage. The Indians are champions of District 10AA Division 1. Coach Lawson talked about the matchup.
“We know they’re a really talented team. We’ve been in a district with them the last couple of years, we split with them, and they know us, we know them,” Lawson said. “It should be a great game, two top ten teams in the state battling it out, and I know our kids are going to come ready to play.”