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Tigers rally to top Panthers

Greenville High School senior defensive back Ja’Quan Lewis  returns an interception during the third quarter of the Tigers' 35-22 win over Elmore County High School Friday night at Tiger Stadium. Greenville will open the regular season next Friday night against Valley High School. (Advocate Staff/Andy Brown)

Greenville High School senior defensive back Ja’Quan Lewis returns an interception during the third quarter of the Tigers’ 35-22 win over Elmore County High School Friday night at Tiger Stadium. Greenville will open the regular season next Friday night against Valley High School. (Advocate Staff/Andy Brown)

Greenville High School’s dress rehearsal Friday night may not have earned a standing ovation from head coach Josh McLendon, but the Tigers’ first-year head coach certainly saw plenty to like as the Tigers rallied for a 35-22 win over Elmore County High School.

“There’s some things we need to iron out, but overall I was happy with what I saw,” McLendon said. “We were able to get some guys some good experience and work out some of the jitters. We got done what we wanted to get done.”

While the Tigers managed to put 35 points on the scoreboard, it was Greenville’s defense that stole the show. The Tigers forced seven Panther turnovers en route to the win.

An interception by senior defensive back Ja’Quan Lewis with 5:04 in the third quarter proved to be the turning point of the contest.

With Greenville trailing 15-14, Lewis stepped in front of the pass at midfield and raced to the Elmore County 24 yard line. On the ensuing drive, senior running back Skilar Moorer pounded the ball into the end zone from 1 yard out. Senior kicker Antonio Alvarez added the extra point and Greenville led 21-15.

The Tigers would hold onto the lead for the remainder of the contest.

“Our defense bailed us out early,” McLendon said. “We had some turnovers on offense that put us in a bad spot, but our defense came through. That’s what you want to see. We were able to lean on our defense until our offense was able to get going a little. That’s what being a team is about. There will be times that it will be our offense we lean on. We need both.”

Greenville extended its lead to 28-15 with 8:51 to play in fourth quarter on a spectacular run from senior running back Ken McCoy.

McCoy caught a short pass from junior quarterback Brandon Simmons and then eluded a handful of Panther defenders with a stutter step and spin before scampering 24 yards for the score.

Simmons and McCoy connected again on the Tigers’ next drive, this time from 28 yards out.

“Offensively I feel like we’re in good shape,” McLendon said. “Our guys have a good understanding of what we want to do, we just have eliminate some of the mistakes. We had too many turnovers tonight. If we have turnovers on offense we’re not going to be successful. We have to take care of the ball.”

Simmons, who finished with three touchdown passes, also threw two interceptions, one of which was returned 50 yards for a score early in the second half.

Sophomore Malik Bunch was the recipient of one of Simmons’ touchdown throws. The 6-foot-4, 165-pound wide receiver also hauled in a touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Randy Rudolph.

With their final preseason tune-up out of the way, the Tigers will now shift their focus to Valley High School.

“We have to be hitting on all cylinders next week,” McLendon said. “Valley is going to have a real good team. We’ve got to continue getting better every single day. If we do that we’ll give ourselves a chance to win the game.”

The Tigers and the Rams will square off at 7 p.m. at Tiger Stadium.