By Michael V. Hannigan
The News Staff
WAXAHACHIE – It looked like the Malakoff Tigers stayed on the bus for the first eight minutes of the opening game of the Dale Hansen Classic Friday night, spotting Italy a 15-0 lead.
It might have been the worst stretch of football played by the Tigers during the Coach Jamie Driskell era, with the Malakoff offense gaining nine yards, no first downs and a lost fumble in two possessions, while the defense gave up 135 yards and two touchdowns to the Gladiators.
Then Malakoff showed up. Actually, that is an understatement. The Tigers physically dominated Italy, pounding the Gladiators along both lines of scrimmage on their way to a 64-36 blowout win.
“We showed a lot of character and we kept our head in the game,” Coach Jamie Driskell said afterward. “It is a game of momentum and we fought back to get it and we held on.”
Not just held on, but put up the fourth-highest point total in school history and the most points since a 70-point outburst in 1990.
The Tigers (2-0) were led by senior quarterback Tate Taylor, who before the game was presented with a $1,000 scholarship as part of the Dale Hansen Classic festivities. On the field, Taylor racked up nearly 300 yards of combined offense (143 rushing, 140 passing) and ran for two touchdowns and threw for two others.
Sophomore Marcus Dowell also put up stud numbers for Malakoff, rushing for 137 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries.
Malakoff’s first scoring drive showed the Tigers’ power, as they moved 63 yards in nine plays, all runs by Taylor or Dowell, with the senior quarterback finding the end zone from the 1 yard line.
That play started an incredible series of possessions which saw four touchdowns in five minutes of play (three by Malakoff), all on one-yard runs. The last one, which belonged to Dowell, ended with a two-point conversion when Taylor found Marcus Willingham with a pass and tied the score at 22-22.
Italy retook the lead for a short time late in the second quarter on a 43-yard fumble return for a touchdown, but Malakoff answered before the half with Taylor hitting Terrance Scott on a four-yard slant to send the teams into the lockerroom tied at 29-29.
Scott is quickly becoming a big play threat for the Tigers. He had 102 yards receiving and caught two touchdowns – including one of 74 yards in the second half – and returned a punt to the Italy 1 yard line to set up a score.
The second half belonged to the Tigers, with Malakoff outscoring Italy 35-7 in the third and fourth quarters. The only second half possession that did not end in a touchdown for the Tigers was the last one when Taylor knelt down twice to run out the clock.
Malakoff also scored on a Willingham fumble recovery in the end zone and on a four-yard run by Dariuhn Jackson. Also not to be overlooked is Cesar Garcia, who went 8-for-8 on extra point attempts.
And while there are always plenty of stats available for the offense, the Tiger defense also turned things around after the first eight minutes of the game. Malakoff gave up fewer yards in the final three quarters (134) than in the first quarter (135). The defensive front seven wreaked havoc in the Italy backfield, dropping quarterback Eric Carson for negative yardage 10 times.
Carson started the night on fire throwing, connecting on his first three passes for an even 100 yards. Two passes resulted in touchdowns and the third set up the Gladiators for a one-yard score.
After that, the Tiger defense locked up the Gladiator attack, holding Carson to 2-of-7 passing for just 30 yards and no touchdowns. While the Tiger pass rush was instrumental in that turnaround, so was the play of Scott and Garrian McCallister in the secondary.
Italy was led on the ground by senior Ryheem Walker, who picked up 156 yard on 20 carries.
The Tigers are on the road again next week, traveling to Kerens to take on the Bobcats. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.