• John Macon Gillespie

Coverage Recap: Saltillo 24 Baldwyn 21

Friday was a special night in Saltillo, Mississippi. For the first time in 16 tries, Pat Byrd and the Tiger football team will get put a “W” beside an opponent’s name. Though it marks the seventh win in their previous eight games against Baldwyn, this one was an upset.

Even more important, however, it was an improbable comeback victory. The kind of win that leads to more winning, but only time will tell if that is true for Saltillo. Anyways, back to Friday night.

The opening drive started it all. The Tigers starting the scoring on the back of Kane Wilbanks, who rushed it down and eventually into the endzone. But that’s not exactly what I meant. The opening kickoff was fumbled, which would be a common occurrence in the first half. In fact, at intermission the two teams had eight turnovers combined.

After falling behind the Bearcats would respond by scoring 21 unanswered by halftime. Quarterback John Swinney threw for 110 yards in the first half, connecting with Calvin Harris and Felix Hayes for scores. Jalon Clark rushed for a score, as well.

In the second half, however, Baldwyn wouldn’t reach the endzone. Meanwhile, the Tigers overcame a sluggish third quarter and Wilbanks took over in the final period. He connected with Jameik Murphy for a 50-yard score. Later he called his own number and scored on the ground for the second time of the game. Due to a missed extra point, Wilbanks would also have to tote the two-point conversion in, as well.

Baldwyn found itself in possession of the ball, with the game tied at 21, and less than two minutes left in the game. They elected to go to the air twice on the drive and on the second attempt Saltillo linebacker Dylan McGregor intercepted Swinney. Set in Baldwyn territory to start the drive, Wilbanks put the Tigers in possession to get a game-winning field goal from Westin Filgo as time expired.

A herd of royal blue jerseys rushed the field. A crowd of parents, family members, friends and peers erupted. It was a bottle of emotions, which had been building since November of 2014 when the Tigers last won a game, that opened before my eyes. It was so loud and so inspiring to witness that I could barely gather my thoughts. I didn’t need to, it was just special.

After the game coach Byrd spoke of how proud he was of his team. Heck, anybody that watched the Tigers compete last would have been. They fought and fought, though it luck and breaks repeatedly went against them. Despite being winless coming into this game, the Tigers had been in some close ball games, but last night, against the top 2A team in Mississippi coming into this season, they made the winning plays.

Perhaps it was the Tigers’ depth that helped them prevail. Or maybe it was adjustments from the Saltillo coaching staff. The Tiger defense was incredibly gutsy and good in the second half. They weren’t dominant, but they didn’t break. They were clutch when they needed to be.

Meanwhile the offense hurt itself more than it helped itself, but offensive line was just good enough in the end. In fact, in the closing two drives of the fourth quarterback they were impressive.

Next week will come soon enough for Saltillo. Division play kicks off as they will face the Lake Cormorant Gators. But last night was special and is likely to be the lasting memory of this season. I know come season’s end it will be one of the moments that stands at the forefront of my mind. It was an electric and exciting place to be around 9:30 p.m. A community experience a positive shock of emotion, and it was beautiful.

Southern Elite Sports
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