By Michael V. Hannigan
GROESBECK – By the fourth quarter Friday night, the playoff monkey on Malakoff’s back looked about the size of King Kong.
Well that’s another empty ape suit gone.
The Malakoff Tigers rallied late to beat Little River Academy 10-3 at Groesbeck Stadium, giving Malakoff its first playoff win since 1998 and Jamie Driskell his first playoff victory ever.
The Tigers (9-2) advance to take on East Chambers next Friday at 7 p.m. at A&M Consolidated in College Station.
The win didn’t come easy. When the third quarter ended with the score 3-0 in favor of the Bumblebees, it marked the seventh consecutive scoreless quarter for the normally explosive Malakoff offense.
“We started pressing,” said Driskell. “We were making some mistakes and then it sort of snowballed on us, because other guys were trying to make up for mistakes and then they started pressing. But we found a way.”
The Tigers got things turned around with a drive that started on their own 5 yard line and ended with a monster 42-yard field goal by Cesar Garcia to tie the game.
Along the way, Malakoff quarterback Jacob Teague provided a spark for the Tigers by picking up 34 yards on the ground and throwing for 33 yards to Tate Taylor and Kash Armstrong.
When Garcia’s kick sailed through the uprights it felt like a huge weight lifted off the Tiger sideline. It didn’t take long to notice the effect on the field, either, because three plays later the Malakoff defense took the ball back on a Dustin Higgs fumble recovery and set up the offense on the Academy 27.
Three minutes later Taylor scored on a 1-yard plunge to put the Tigers up for good.
Teague finished the night with 97 yards rushing on 26 carries, and 8 of 17 for 81 yards in the air. Taylor led the Tigers in receiving with 38 yards on three catches. Armstrong also had three catches for 34 yards.
But the offense would never have had the chance to come back if it weren’t for the defense shutting down the Bumblebees when necessary.
“Thank the Lord for the defense,” said Driskell. “(Defensive Coordinator Brent) Watkins and those guys and our kids just played awesome.”
The Tigers did give up a 31-yard field goal to Santana Mendoza midway through the second quarter, but otherwise held Academy to just 167 total yards for the game.
The performance is even more impressive when you consider that the Tiger defense is almost always smaller than the opponent. Two of Malakoff’s defensive linemen are running backs and none of the starters are over 200 pounds. Teams, like Academy, often try to run straight at Malakoff and that strategy has sometimes picked up yardage. But in their nine wins, the Tiger defense has given up an average of just 12.5 points per game.
Of course, on a Class 2A team like Malakoff a lot of the players are the same on both sides of the ball.
“They are a special group of kids,” said Watkins. “We’ve never been huge or real athletic, they just find a way to win. This is my 26th year and this is my favorite group. They’re well disciplined and do everything you tell them.”
Turnovers are always big for the Tigers, and in addition to Higgs’ fumble recovery the Tigers got an interception by Garrett Airheart in the first half on a pass that was tipped by Higgs.