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Tigers top Jags, finish 10-0

The No. 2-ranked Greenville Tigers rebounded from a shaky first half to defeat Hillcrest of Evergreen 50-6 last night and close out their first perfect regular season since 1997.

“I’m excited about finishing undefeated, but I’m more ready to move into the second season,” said head coach Ben Blackmon. “The kids deserve it. They’ve worked hard since Briarwood beat us last year in the playoffs. I hope everyone enjoys this.”

Things didn’t start too smoothly for Greenville, who was without starting quarterback Ryan Smith.

Smith missed the game due to an enlarged spleen.

Freshman Kent Riley was at the helm, but Cordez Peagler took over the first drive with a 48-yard run and a two-yard scamper for a touchdown to put Greenville ahead 7-0.

On the Tigers’ next possession, Riley fumbled, giving the Jaguars solid field position at Greenville’s 21-yard line.

After driving down inside the three-yard line, the Greenville defense pulled out a goal line stand and put the Tigers’ offense on the field at their own five-yard line.

Riley redeemed himself and capped the drive with a 13-yard touchdown to put the Tigers up 14-0 with 7:03 to go in the half.

The Jags mounted a last-minute drive, and on fourth down with time winding down, Justin Nared hit William Ferguson for a 32-yard touchdown pass to make the margin 14-6.

On the final play of the first half, Riley rushed around the right end and stayed on the ground with a leg injury after the play.

That forced third-string quarterback Michael Watts into action in the second half.

“Michael Watts started playing quarterback at P.E. today,” Blackmon joked. “He came in and did a good job for us.”

Watts and the rest of the offense got some help from the defense and special teams in the third quarter.

Tijuan Rudolph started the second half in style with a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Three minutes later, the Jaguars punted to Rudolph, who ran 49 yards to the Hillcrest 11-yard line to set up a touchdown run from Peagler.

A mere 15 seconds after that, defensive lineman Kenneth Carter picked off a pass to the flat and returned it for a touchdown to put the Tigers ahead 35-6.

Jay Johnson added a 12-yard run 45 seconds into the fourth quarter, and Darius Watson made the best of a bumbled extra point attempt, hitting Mikwese Claybourne for the two-point conversion.

The defense also had the final say of the night when Deandre Savage picked up a Hillcrest fumble and raced 70 yards for a touchdown with 4:41 to play in the game.

“We’ve got to work to overcome relaxation and fight through complacency,” Blackmon said. “That’s what happened to us when we went ahead 14-0 in the first half.”

Smith and Riley join a growing list of injuries for the Tigers, including Patrick Bedgood, who injured his ankle last week and Fernandez Grey, who went out earlier in the season.

Getting healthy will be a top priority for the Tigers heading into next week’s first-round playoff game against Moody.

“We’re going to start watching film and try to get this team in the best shape we can,” Blackmon said.