Jordan Tibbs was met with open arms as he sprinted back to his Decatur High teammates.
High points had been scarce for Decatur. Twelve fumbles and six turnovers had drained the energy on the Red Raiders’ sideline.
That changed with a lengthy scoring drive and a momentum-changing defensive play midway through the fourth quarter.
Tibbs caught a 24-yard pass from Jackson Fite for the go-ahead touchdown, and Kyle Ingram set up another score with a timely fumble recovery, sending Decatur past Athens 21-13 Thursday night in both team’s season openers.
“That was ugly,” Fite said. “We kept turning the ball over. It was frustrating. But our defense saved us. We owe them big time. Those guys are the reason we won this game.”
Hard to argue with that assessment.
Athens capitalized on three Decatur turnovers in the first quarter to race out to a 13-0 lead.
Adam Harvey kicked field goals from 37 and 30 yards, and Andre Holt returned a fumble 48 yards for a touchdown.
The turnovers continued to pile up for Decatur. The Red Raiders turned the ball over four times on six fumbles in the first half.
But despite being put in difficult situations, Decatur’s defense held strong. The Red Raiders held Athens to 70 yards of total offense and six first downs while forcing five turnovers.
“They stepped up big time,” Decatur coach Jere Adcock said. “We’ve got some playmakers on that side of the ball, and they kept overcoming adversity and kept us in the game. They did exactly what we needed from them.”
A Decatur offense that struggled to sustain drives found life in the fourth quarter.
Rex Jarman and Josh Matthews chewed up yards with their blistering running styles, helping Decatur convert critical third downs on a lengthy scoring drive. One of those third downs required Matthews to break two tackles from three yards behind the first-down marker, setting up Fite’s 24-yard touchdown pass to Tibbs, which gave Decatur a 14-13 lead with 8:38 remaining in the game.
Jarman finished with 60 yards on 16 carries, while Matthews had 50 yards on 10 carries.
“We finally got it going when we needed to,” Adcock said. “The turnovers killed us. I’ve never seen anything like it. But to have all those things happen to you, and then have guys shake it off and come back to win, that was a bright sign.”
The go-ahead touchdown gave Decatur life. A fumble recovery by Ingram three plays later completely shifted momentum in Decatur’s favor.
Ingram scooped up a fumble and raced 64 yards to the 2-yard line, setting up a 6-yard touchdown pass from Fite to Na’Vante Williams. Fite also had an 8-yard touchdown pass to Tibbs in the second quarter.
Fite finished with 107 yards on 9 of 14 passing.
“It’s just good to get that first win,” Fite said. “It was ugly, but a win is a win. Hopefully we can build on it.”
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