Mike Davis stood on the 46-yard line and leaned forward, his fists on his knees, his face moist with sweat and emotion. He took a deep breath in as his players knelt on their home turf in front of him, awaiting a postgame victory speech after what had just been the greatest moment of most, if not all, of their football lives. Before Davis started talking, he raised his fists in the air and unleashed a gutteral scream.
“As long as you’re breathing, you’re fighting,” Davis said shortly afterwards.
The breath had been knocked out of the Fayette County Tigers (3-3, 2-0) in the second half, when their defense surrendered 28 unanswered points to the McIntosh Chiefs (5-1, 1-1). It took another unlikely swing of momentum, two touchdowns in the final 5:41 of regulation, and one more in overtime, for Fayette County to regain control of a game it had almost certainly let slip away. The Tigers, in a game that included runs of 21, 28, and 20 points, delivered the final blow to McIntosh Friday night in a 41-35 instant classic at Fayette County High School, capped off by a game-winning three-yard touchdown run from Jalil Dabney.
Cory Andrews doesn’t take flight as soon as he secures the football. First, it’s a waiting game, as he teases his opponents, pedaling perpendicular to the sideline. Then, when the window of opportunity opens wide enough, he bursts forward. Many times, he’ll be brought down before he weaves into the secondary. But occasionally, as was the case against McIntosh, Andrews will break a 50-plus yard touchdown, streaking down the sidelines virtually untouched for a score.
Dabney is impatient. When he receives the handoff, he’s already bulldozing his way through the defensive line. His power alone makes him a viable early-down back, able to set his team up with third-and-manageable. Blink, however, as the McIntosh defense did, and Dabney is already past the safeties, barreling his way to a 50-plus yard touchdown.
The two Fayette County senior running backs complement each other, “like Batman and Robin,” Davis said.
“We just make everything a friendly competition,” Dabney said. “He scores. I try to score.” Moments before, Andrews said of Dabney, “If he scores, I score.”
A balanced rushing attack, coupled with a stifling Fayette County run defense, set the Tigers up with a two-score lead at the end of the first half. To be sure, penalties and a special teams blunder from McIntosh contributed to a lopsided first half.
Andrews’ 59-yard sprint—”I got the ball and I seen it and I just went,” he said—only two plays after McIntosh’s Dane Kinamon fired a line drive to a diving Trey Williams for a 17-yard touchdown, knotted the score at 7-7. Evilio Nixon blocked a McIntosh punt, setting his Tigers up on the Chiefs’ 15-yard line. A quarterback sneak from JeKobe Coleman, which was soon followed by a Dabney 52-yard touchdown through the middle of the field, ballooned the lead to 21-7 by the end of the second quarter.
The halftime locker room is a mystical place for the outsiders. Surely, it looks the same as the pregame and postgame locker room. Same players. Same coaches. Same lockers. But every once in a Friday night, the halftime locker room is a double shot of espresso for a team desperate for a jolt. A sense of bewilderment for reporters in a postgame interview—what did you say to your players in that locker room, Coach?—a powerful halftime speech can dissect the storyline of a game into two separate narratives: the first half blowout and the second half comeback. Ultimately, if the halftime speech—its contents never fully known to the outsiders—performs its job, only the latter narrative prevails.
“I just told them to keep fighting,” McIntosh head coach Lee Belknap said of his halftime speech. “Keep doing what we’ve done all year, and we were going to get back in the game.”
For a majority of the second half, it seemed as though whatever Belknap said to his players at the half had remedied any issues that plagued his Chiefs in the first two quarters.
The first three-and-a-half plays for the Fayette County offense in the third quarter happened as follows: run for no gain, sack, false start and lost fumble, recovered by McIntosh’s Alec Sterne. This sequence set the tone for the Chiefs’ reenergized second-half attack.
Kinamon closed the lead with a 5-yard touchdown strike to Bradley Ector, but a missed extra point kept the score at 21-13. Fayette County’s next offensive drive was nearly worse than its first. Following a fourth-and-37, a punt was bobbled, and McIntosh started its second consecutive drive in Tigers’ territory. (Had there been five downs, it would’ve been a fifth-and-47 following the mishandled punt.)
Kinamon continued to move his team down the field with ease, not only finding open receivers, but embracing his physicality as a runner, lowering his helmet to pick up extra yards, spinning out of would-be tackles, and keeping his feet moving as Tigers tried to grab hold of the back of his jersey to drag him down. To finish the next drive, Kinamon found Williams for the second time in the end zone, and Ector dashed left end to convert a two-point conversion, tying the game at 21.
The next two scores happened within 36 seconds of each other. A Kinamon 21-yard run set up Ector inside the 1-yard line to punch it in. Then, Calvin Flowers intercepted a Coleman pass, and the very next play, Kinamon scored on a 17-yard scamper. With a 35-21 lead, it seemed whatever took place inside that McIntosh halftime locker room did the trick.
Unfortunately for McIntosh, its comeback tale was only part two of a three-act play. The most stunning stretch didn’t occur when the Chiefs chalked up four unanswered touchdowns. Rather, it was Dabney, rattling off a series of runs until he wound up in the end zone at the 5:41 mark. Then, it was Jaylan Coleman, falling on an Ector fumble, setting his Tigers up outside the red zone, dangerously close to sending the game to overtime. With 31 seconds left in regulation, JeKobe did just that, finding Jordan Turner all alone in the end zone to tie it once again.
In overtime, Nixon fell on another fumble, and Dabney ended it with his third and final touchdown, sending the Fayette County sideline into a frenzy and delivering McIntosh its first loss of the season.
“I like to see things before it happens,” Dabney said after the game. When prompted to rank the moment in the highlights of his four-year football career at Fayette County, Dabney said, simply, “One.”
Dabney finished the game with 141 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries. Andrews ran for 108 yards and one score on 17 carries.
Now, the Tigers are the only team undefeated in AAAAA, Region 3 play. With a road trip to region foe Griffin (6-1, 2-1) this week, Davis is keeping the win in perspective.
“It don’t get easy,” Davis said. “It’s going to be tough. But we’re happy to be 2-0 in the region.”
McIntosh, meanwhile, will try to rebound from a hard-fought loss when it hosts Starr’s Mill (7-1, 2-1) on Friday.