By Craig Allen Brown
EAST POINT, Ga. —The undefeated Jonesboro Cardinals have made defense their foremost priority all year long. Four games into the 2020 season, Jonesboro has only given up a total of 14 points. And it was head coach Tim Floyd’s commitment to defense that proved to be the difference in Saturday’s 24-20 victory over the Tri-Cities Bulldogs.
After establishing a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, Jonesboro ended Tri-Cities’ next two drives by way of a sack and an interception.
Late in the second quarter, Tri-Cities quarterback Amarion Hicks engineered a drive that took the Bulldogs deep inside Cardinals’ territory. In the red zone, Hicks connected with standout receiver Delorenzo Dixon for an 11-yard touchdown reception, trimming the Jonesboro lead to four, 10-6.
Dixon would strike again immediately after halftime, this time on the defensive end of the ball. On the second play from scrimmage, Dixon intercepted Jonesboro quarterback Chadrick Garner, and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown. The made extra point gave Tri-Cities its first lead of the game, 13-10.
Momentum seemed to be on the Bulldogs’ as the fourth quarter, began, and when Hicks found Dixon again on third down for a 39-yard strike to the Jonesboro 36-yard line, it looked like Tri-Cities would be able to pad its lead. But Jonesboro linebacker Cameron Leonard stopped the drive when he stepped in front of Hicks’ next pass and picked it off.
However, on the very next play, Tri-Cities linebacker Dylan Johnson returned the favor, giving Garner his second interception, and returning the ball to the Cardinal 3-yard line. Hicks rushed for a one-yard touchdown two plays later, stretching Tri-Cities’ lead to 20-10.
The Cardinals wasted no time striking back. Garner marched Jonesboro into Tri-Cities territory in under two minutes. The drive appeared to stall when Bulldogs linebacker Omar Gay sacked Garner back at the Cardinal 43-yard line. However, Garner redeemed himself when he connected with receiver Marques Dunn for an 18-yard touchdown with 5:49 remaining in the game, pulling the Cardinals to within a field goal.
After a quick three-and-out, Tri-Cities executed a poor punt that only traveled to its own 38-yard line. With 2:49 remaining in the game, Garner took over. After an 18-yard completion for a first down, Garner called his own number, and ran through the teeth of the Bulldog defense to the 8-yard line. He then found senior Ahlik Booker in the end zone for what proved to be the game-winning score with 45 seconds left.
Floyd was impressed with his team’s resilience in the face of multiple moments where the game could’ve gotten out of hand.
“Prevailing and overcoming adversity, no matter what the situation is, is one of the things we talk about on a daily basis,” Floyd said. “I liked the way the defense played against the running game. They kept fighting, regardless of the situation.”
Floyd acknowledged that the turnover bug probably caused the game to be a little bit more difficult than it should’ve been, and he stressed the need for his team to clean up those mistakes.
“I think we have to take care of the ball a lot better and we have to be able to run the ball a lot better,” Floyd said. “I think those are the things that you need to do in order to win football games.”
Nevertheless, the win moves the Cardinals to 5-0 (3-0 in Region 3-AAAAA) for the first time since 2011, while Tri-Cities falls to 4-2 and 2-2 in Region 3-AAAAA. Jonesboro’s win kept it in a three-way tie for first place in the region with Woodward Academy (3-3, 3-0) and Creekside (3-2, 3-0).
Jonesboro will put its undefeated season on the line once again when it travels to play Drew Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Southern Crescent Stadium. Meanwhile, Tri-Cities will take on Banneker Friday, also with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.