REELTOWN — Seconds after Tywone Stewart was knocked to the ground by a pair of Tanner High defenders, Fred Rich sprinted to the Rattlers’ sideline.
A spirited, yet low key, celebration with teammates and cheerleaders ensued.
Just briefly, though.
Before the players walked off the field, Tanner’s attention had already shifted back to the team’s primary goal: Winning the program’s first state title.
Top-ranked Tanner moved one step closer Friday night, bullying its way past No. 3 Reeltown 35-14 in the Class 2A state semifinals.
The win sends Tanner to its second straight appearance in the Class 2A state title game. The Rattlers (13-0) face Washington County on Friday at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium. Kickoff is 3 p.m.
But you couldn’t tell from the Rattlers’ mild celebration.
“I like that,” Tanner coach Laron White said. “The players have been here before, and they’re acting like it. Just getting to the championship game isn’t our goal. Winning a championship has been this team’s goal from the very beginning.”
So much for a 24-hour rule. Try five minutes.
“This team is determined to reach the goal we set,” Tanner defensive end Kyle Shoulders said. “Every week is about taking care of business, and this week isn’t any different.”
The intense, business-like approach has worked well for Tanner. Since the postseason began in early November, the Rattlers have dominated their way through the bracket.
That didn’t change at Reeltown (13-1).
If there were any doubts about which team in the North bracket was best, Tanner erased those early. Behind a blistering rushing attack and a smothering defense, the Rattlers dominated from start to finish.
Hayden Stephens rushed for two touchdowns in the first half, scoring on runs of 19 and 51 yards. Tanner extended its lead to 21-7 midway through the second quarter on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Jonathon Fletcher to Desmond Love, giving the Rattlers all the momentum they needed.
“Getting that two-touchdown lead, that allowed our players to calm down and just play,” White said. “These guys play well when they have the lead.”
Tanner proved that to be true.
Reeltown struggled to move the football against Tanner’s defense. Stewart had touchdown runs of 30 and 49 yards — ending the Rattlers’ shutout streak at 13 quarters — but those were the only big plays the Rebels could manage.
Tanner held Reeltown to 240 yards of total offense, with only 138 on the ground. Greg Maclin and Fred Rich finished with one interception each.
“That was a very physical football game,” Tanner linebacker Fred Rich said. “But when we got that lead early, all of us knew we were going to make it stand up. We just went out and made plays like we always do.”
Tanner blew the game open in the fourth quarter. Fletcher threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to Dexter Douglas, and Stephens capped a lengthy drive with a 12-yard scoring run — crushing any hopes the Rebels had for a comeback.
Stephens finished with 217 yards on 31 carries.
“Getting back to the championship game is pretty sweet,” White said. “But it’s time for us to head back home, regroup and get our minds right for the next challenge, and it’s going to be a big one. It’s going to take another good week of practice, but this team we have, it’s a pretty determined group. They’ve handled themselves well, and I don’t expect that to change.”
Tanner 35, Reeltown 14
Washington County 41, Sweet Water 33
Tanner (13-0) vs. Washington County (13-1), 3 p.m. Friday at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn.
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