The Tigers traveled to Oxford to take on Ole Miss in a friendly season opener. Both teams have difficult conference play ahead of us and needed to start putting a squad together.
The Tigers have 4 freshmen, two who are new to the game. We have a five returning to the Tigers after taking last season off. We are thrilled to have all of these players and the coaches agree that this is the best group of athletes in the past 4 years.
Ole Miss has three internationals playing on their side and the captain, Dylan Carter, just returned from Colorado and some advanced training with the Serevi Training camp.
On this day, Oxford was unbearably muggy. The heat was 89 degrees, but the humidity was off the charts. The coaches were drenched with sweat from just standing and coaching. The player’s practice jerseys were soaked within 10 minutes of warm-up. We knew then it would be a long day.
Rob Halcomb whistled the start promptly at 2:00 and we were off. The Tigers tore into their tasks aggressively and with passion. Unfortunately, the pace of the play and the heat began to take its toll. The coaches smartly began to replace players 20 minutes in to get the lads hydrated and give them time to cool.
The Tigers only made a few mistakes, but Ole Miss was ready to take advantage of any error. Ole miss struck first, 5-0. Later, Rob caught Ole Miss not releasing the ball and Jacob Scott slotted a penalty for three points for the Tigers. Then the Tiger errors and heat took their toll. A few more mistakes Ole Miss took two tries. The half whistle left us behind 19-3.
The Tigers were working hard individually, but needed to work togehter. They had worked very hard in the first half and the score was not indicative of their effort. The coaches asked them to settle… and apply what they had learned in practice.
The second half was quite different, in part because a slight breeze provided some heat relief, and because the Tigers started playing their game. Jacob kicked a long penalty to touch gaining excellent ground for the Tigers. The forwards provided a fast lineout, and off to the backs before the defense had time to set. Quick hands and Thomas Strickland had the ball on the wing with room to move… and move he did. Side stepped the wing, cut inside and juked the fullback. Try for the Tigers. Jacob notched the conversion and we are back in the hunt. We just proved to ourselves that the game plan worked.
The ball was terribly slick. It was a good ball, but it was greasy with sweat from 30 players wrestling over it. Slick ball led to lots of knocks, but they began to work in our favor. Our forwards began to drive their scrum, winning all of our scrums and several of theirs.
We were on the front foot. The forwards charged down the middle of the field following a quick ruck by Cameron Walton and company. Lemons, to Wallace, to Matt, to freshman hooker Musa, to TJ to RJ and on it went. Straight up the middle. The ball continued to change hands and RJ grabbed it last. With the line in sight, RJ plowed through four tacklers to score his first try as a Tiger. Justin converted and the score stood 19-17, Ole Miss by 2.
The Tigers were playing their game and things begin to click… but we were not error free. A wily Ole Miss player chipped ahead, picked up the ball on the bounce, fended off the tackle and took a try. Dang! 24-17
Chris Lemons settled his players, brought them to the line for the kickoff and challenged them to rise to the occasion. In fact, he caught the kick solidly himself, took good yardage and set an excellent platform with the help of his forwards to start another attack. A few scrums, a penalty kick and we were back in their half, and on full attack.
We knew time was short and we needed a score. The forwards set several platforms for attacking and this time the backs got into the game. They worked the ball down to the Ole Miss 5 where Jacob took the ball forward into three defensive players as he leaned for the line. Three Tigers hit the maul from behind and drove it to the ground. The ball looked tied up short of the goal, but Jacob was able to shove the ball to the base and the quick thinking Bennett Brown picked the ball and dove for the line. We pealed Jacob from under six players, got him breathing again and asked him to kick another conversion. He did so like he had been there 100 times. No one could tell this was his first collegiate match.
With one minute left, Rob allowed one final play. The kickoff resulted in a knock on (of course) and that was the game. Finals score tied 24-24.
The Tigers showed great heart in coming back from a 16 point deficit. Actually, they gained confidence every minute of the match. We didn’t run out of ideas, we just ran out of time.
The coaching staff were able to see several players in different positions. We have a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. There is a lot to ponder as we work to prepare the players for Mississippi State next Saturday at home. We look forward to the challenge.
I’d like to go on about each player, but this post is too long already. Suffice to say that I have great things to say about each player. I’m sure the highlights of each person’s play will be captured in future posts as we move through the season.
Referee: Rob Halcomb
Players 1. Matt Hill, 2 Musa Banat, 3. TJ Hardaway, 4. RJ Thorn, 5. Kian Koleini, 6. JT Henson7. August Stevens, 8. Chris Lemons (captain) 9. Bennett Brown 10. Jacob Scott 11. Bert Milam 12. Cameron Walton 13. Sam Toliver 14. Thomas Strickland 15. Tezman Mosley 16. Justice Houston 17. Wallace Kwasu, 19. Mike, 20. Tevin Jackson, 21. Kevin Segog, 22. Justin (Injured reserve – Mitch Jacobson and Hector Marquez)
- Jacob Scott– 3 points penalty, 4 points on conversions
- Justin – 2 point on conversion
- Thomas Strickland – 5 points
- RJ Thorn – 5 points
- Bennett Brown – 5 points
Man of the Match – Sam Tolliver for hard driving, hard tackling, excellent defense, front foot offense. He also stole several balls from the opposition and made a significant impact in the game.
More photos here. http://www.bluemelon.com/drcole/olemiss2015#page-0/photo-5590733
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