Tigers hold on against Carver

Published 12:21 am Friday, September 4, 2009

Respect. Redemption. Survival.

All three came into play in Greenville’s nail-biting 28-24 win over Carver on Thursday night in Cramton Bowl.

The Tigers put themselves on the map and earned some attention with the win over the Wolverines, who were ranked No. 3 in the state.

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“Carver is a great team, and this game could have gone either way,” said head coach Ben Blackmon. “They did a great job of fighting back, and we knew the fourth quarter was going to be a battle.”

Greenville led 28-8 at halftime and managed to hold off a persistent Carver team, thanks in part to a timely interception by Greenville Tijuan Rudolph.

With less than four minutes to play in the game, Carver trailed by only four points and was beginning a drive down the field when Rudolph stepped in front of a pass on third and long.

“That pick was huge,” Blackmon said. “I tell the kids all the time that in big games, big-time players make big-time plays.”

“My teammates have my back, and I’ve got their back,” Rudolph said. “I told them that if I got the chance to do something, I was going to, and that’s what it was.”

Up until that point, Greenville’s secondary had been torched like Atlanta in Gone With the Wind.

The Tigers held Carver to third and long several times in the second half, but the Wolverines were able to catch a deep ball nearly every time for a first down.

Those passes led to several big runs, and Carver used a 17-yard pass to pull within a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Rudolph’s interception set up a drive that went inside the 10-yard line and ate up the remaining clock – a third-down run to the one-yard line by quarterback Ryan Smith with 22.2 seconds to play gave the Tigers a first down and sealed the game.

Both Smith and wide receiver Mikwese Claybourne started the game hot.

Smith connected with Claybourne for an 82-yard touchdown pass to put Greenville on the board in the first quarter.

Following an interception by Patrick Bedgood, Smith took a quarterback draw up the middle for 17 yards and Greenville’s second touchdown to go up 14-0 with 9:59 left in the first half.

Cordez Peagler broke a 48-yard run two minutes later to stretch the lead to 21-0, but Carver answered with a long drive and a touchdown.

With 32.9 seconds to go before the half, Smith again connected with Claybourne, this time for 23 yards to give the Tigers a 28-8 lead at the half.

Claybourne wasn’t the only big-time receiver for the Tigers.

Michael Watts caught passes of 10, 14 and 44 yards on a key drive for Greenville late in the second half.

“This is great,” Smith said while celebrating after the game. “You just can’t compare it to anything. It’s an awesome feeling.”

“I’m proud of our kids for fighting, even though it got kind of scary there,” Blackmon said. “We’re now 1-0 in the region, but we’ve got Demopolis, Chilton County, Wilcox and others to go through. Hopefully this will be a jump start for our season.”