POWDER SPRINGS — It’s not surprising for mistakes to be a factor in the first game of the season, but they were too much of a factor for Archer in its opener against Sandy Creek in the Corky Kell Classic.
Eight penalties worth 118 yards and four turnovers blunted any momentum the Tigers got from taking a 13-point halftime lead, while Eric Swinney ran for 149 of his 220 yards in the second as the Patriots turned a 21-point third quarter into a 21-13 win Friday night at McEachern’s Walter Cantrell Stadium.
It wasn’t just the number of penalties and turnovers the Tigers (0-1, preseason ranked No. 2 in Class AAAAAA) amassed the doomed them.
It was also when they occurred. All four turnovers occurred inside the red zone, while several of the penalties either cost them first downs — or in the worst case, a holding penalty negated what could’ve been the game-tying score on Gabe Tiller’s flip pass to Kyle Davis in the end zone with nine seconds left.
Meanwhile, Sandy Creek — and specifically Swinney — awoke from their doldrums in the second half.
Swinney’s 9-yard TD run was sandwiched between two Trey Walker scoring passes — a 19-yard strike to Tariq Muhammad and an 8-yard completion to Austin Vazquez — that allowed the Patriots (1-0, ranked No. 3 in Class AAAAA) to score 21 points over the final 6:58 of the third quarter. Three times, it looked like Archer might be able to answer. A 32-yard completion from Gabe Tiller to Jamyest Williams help set the Tigers up at the Sandy Creek 33 -yard line late in the third quarter.
But an interception by Sammy Brown at the 20 three plays later quashed that opportunity.
Late in the fourth, Archer had two more chances. But Randy Nails, who ran for 96 of his 107 yard in the final frame, had the ball ripped from his hands after a 20-yard run to the Sandy Creek 4:28 remaining.
Then, after the holding penalty nullified what would’ve been a 7-yard TD from Tiller to Davis moved the ball back to the 28, Tiller’s final pass of the night was hauled down by Antonio Trapp in the end zone to seal the win for the Patriots.
Tiller finished the night 11 of 26 for 237 yards and a score, with Davis hauling in four of those passes for 109 yards.
Aside from two big runs on Sandy Creek’s first possession, the Tigers’ defense held Patriots star running back Swinney relatively in check in the first half.
The Ole Miss commit posted 40 of his 71 yards for the first 24 minutes on those two carries to help carry Sandy Creek to take the Patriots as deep as the Archer 20-yard line.
But a 5-yard false start penalty and a big stop that dropped Swinney for a yard loss on third down forced a 43-yard field goal attempt by Arnon Ramos, which Kobe Smith got a piece of to keep the game scoreless.
And it took only one play for Tiller and the Tigers to cash in, with the senior quarterback launching a long pass down the middle that Davis hauled in and muscled passed a Sandy Creek defender to break away for an 80-yard touchdown, giving Archer a 7-0 lead with 6:00 left in the first quarter.
The Tigers then shook off a roughing the punter penalty to force another Sandy Creek punt and get the ball back late in the period.
Tiller then led a 14-play, 70-yard drive by completing 3 of 4 passes for 47 yards.
It took four shots inside the 5-yard line, but Dylan Singleton finally dove over the top of the line and willed his way into the end zone from a yard out on fourth and goal to extend Archer’s lead to 13-0 after the extra point was blocked with 7:47 left in the first half.
The lead could have been even large, but a botched hand-off led to a fumble at the Sandy Creek 10 with 2:20 left in the half, but the Tigers still took the two-score lead into halftime.