Tri-County 36, Prairie View 26
FLORA, Miss. — Tri-County scored 21 unanswered points in the second half on its way to a 36-26 MAIS Class 2A semifinal victory over Prairie View on Friday night.
Receiving the opening kickoff, the Rebels went three and out as Blake Ray made a stop two yards deep in the backfield on second down.
Making it look easy, the Spartans covered 66 yards in four play on their first offensive series.
Hayes Crockett's 17-yard run set up Layton Rainbolt's 38-yard touchdown jaunt on a pitch to the right side. Crockett's 2-point pass to Tanner Caldwell gave the Spartans an 8-0 lead with 9:24 to play in the opening frame.
Tri-County then advanced from its own 41 to the Prairie View 9 before running out of downs. Ray's sack on first-and-10 from the 14 pushed the Rebels back four yards and a fourth down pass fell incomplete.
Following an empty possession by the Spartans, Austin Carroll's punt rolled dead at the Tri-County 46.
Seven plays later, Garrett Harmon raced around the right edge from 14 yards out. Reed Cliburn ran the conversion, tying the score at 8-8.
Riding the big-play heroicsof Kentrell Spencer, the Spartans held a 20-15 halftime lead.
Spencer mishandled the ensuing kickoff at the 13, retrieved the ball at the 4, cut to his left and sprinted to the end zone for a 96-yard TD return to put Prairie View back in front, 14-8.
Tri-County began its next series from midfield following Garin Ward's 27-yard kickoff return.
On third down, Cade Shepherd hooked up with Harmon for a 46-yard touchdown toss on the first play of the second quarter. A successful PAT gave Tri-County its first lead, 15-14.
With Tri-County threatening to add to its lead, Spencer picked off a third down pass and streaked 89 yards on the return before finally being brought down at the 3-yardline.
Two plays later, Crockett catapulted into the end zone from two yards out. Prairie View was unable to convert its 2-point try, but had taken a 20-15 lead with 1:17 remaining before the pause.
Upon receiving the second half kickoff, the Spartans started at their own 38 and picked up a first down at the 13 on the 10th play of the series. However, the drive would fizzle with the Rebels taking over on downs at the 5.
Five plays later, on third-and-5, Shepherd hit Harmon in stride at midfield for an 80-yard touchdown strike as the Rebels reclaimed the lead, 22-20.
Prairie View moved from its own 37 to the Tri-County 37 on its next possession with the help of a 15-yard infraction against the Rebels before turning the ball over on downs.
Cliburn's 4-yard run capped a 10-play, 63-yard drive as the Rebels widened their lead to 29-20 with 8:13 to play.
Both teams went four plays and out on their next series, with the Spartans taking over at their own 33.
Reading a first down screen pass, linebacker Greyson Smith converted an interception into a 32-yard pick-6 as Tri-County opened up a comfortable 36-20 advantage.
Making its first semifinal appearance as a member of the MAIS, the Spartans (9-4) wouldn't go down without a fight.
Carroll called for a fair catch on the kickoff, and the Spartans set up at their own 33. Prairie View would need just two plays to cover 67 yards as Layton Woodard made a 42-yard backpedaling catch, and Rainbolt covered the final 25 yards around the left edge to bring the Spartans within 36-26.
Two plays into Tri-County's next series, Cole Kinnaird knocked the ball loose in the backfield and Gage Riles scooped up the fumble at the 13 before Shepherd made a touchdown-saving stop at the 20.
Spencer motored 14 yards to the 6 on first down before a second down holding penalty disrupted the series.
Tri-County (9-4) eventually took over at the 16 after an incomplete fourth down pass and ran out the clock.
Coming off of back-to-back state runner-up finishes, the Rebels play District 2-2A rival Greenville St. Joseph in the state championship game on Thursday at 6 p.m., at Jackson Academy. St. Joseph (11-2) defeated TCA 42-7 in Week 9.