By Brandon Speck/NEMS Daily Journal
LAKE CORMORANT – A.J. Rye had to think about how old he was the last time Saltillo made the playoffs.
He was 8. Now the junior and his Tigers are going back. Saltillo beat Lake Cormorant 17-7 Friday in its final division road game to clinch its first playoff berth in eight years, the first in 5A.
“These kids get to experience the best thing about high school football,” Saltillo coach Pat Byrd said. “You’ve got a 16-team tournament. Everybody is 0-0.”
The season is over for Lake Cormorant. The Gators (6-5, 3-4 Division 1-5A) had just tied the game at 7 on Ryan Golden’s 64-yard touchdown pass from Brett Thompson to open the second half. On their next drive, Saltillo’s Ian Huckaby picked Thompson and went 15 yards to the 8. Rye connected on a 30-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead.
With Saltillo (7-4, 4-3) quarterback Andrew Soper on the sideline with an injury in the fourth quarter, Tyler Tollision took over. His first pass was tipped twice and caught in traffic by A.J. Hunt, who went 42 yards. On third-and-goal from the 9, Tollison rolled out and Rye caught a lob and fell out of bounds with the touchdown that sealed it.
Tollision is “a back yard, draw-it-in-the-dirt, if you need 3, he’ll give you 31⁄2,” Byrd said. “He plays where you put him.”
It took the Gators two passes to get to the Saltillo 1 but Huckaby crawled to pick up a fumbled exchange with 4:11 left.
“I think each and every one of us stepped up tonight,” Rye said. “It was a big win.”
Jaquoyle Pounds picked Thompson to end it.
Soper was stopped from the inch line on a fourth-down run in the first but the Tigers scored before the half on a 12-yard sweep from Rye.
On the 48-yard drive, Soper was nailed on a third-and-10 but still managed to pick up six yards, then found Hunt for six and ran 13 to set up Rye’s touchdown.
“It was a pretty sloppy performance on our part but at the same time, Saltillo just made plays,” said Lake Cormorant coach Nick Nester.