METTER — The Metter Tigers were honored and excited to participate in the first game of the first ever Erk Russell Classic last season at Paulson Stadium. After suffering a 42-7 defeat at the hands of Emanuel County Institute, it would have been understandable to see less enthusiasm for a second appearance in the Classic — facing the now-defending state champion Bulldogs from ECI.
Instead, the Tigers used the early start and big stage to send a clear message for the new season, shocking the Bulldogs 21-20 late Saturday night.
After taking control of a struggling program in 2010, Mike West recorded 5-5 records in each of his first two seasons. Last season saw Metter make the jump up to Class AA where the opening loss to ECI was the first stumble on the way to a 2-8 mark. Knowing that their level of play had to increase, the Tigers have been hard at work since the end of 2012.
“It’s been a hard road. No doubt about that,” West said after his team’s upset win. “But we feel like we have the right guys for the job. These kids have been fighting their fannies off in the weight room and in getting ready for the season. That showed (against ECI).”
For as unexpected as the Tigers’ opening win may have been for the poll-makers, there was nothing random or fluky about the performance. Metter was simply the better team for four quarters.
Junior quarterback LaQuavis Kelly shined in his role as a dual threat. Kelly was 7-for-9 through the air, rushed for 78 yards and totaled 130 yards of offense on the night.
Justin Parrish was equally impressive. The junior caught two passes and took both into the end zone for touchdowns. Parrish added six carries for 16 yards and another touchdown.
“It was big that we took the lead early,” Parrish said. “I think that gave us a lot of confidence. We just kept playing our game.”
Last season, the Tigers were far from the only victim of ECI’s explosive ground game. The Bulldogs scored 40 or more points 10 times and returned plenty of talent along the offensive line and in the backfield.
Metter wasn’t phased by the star-power. The Tigers allowed just six points before halftime and — even with starters cramping as much of the 38-man roster played both ways — yielded just 277 yards to ECI on the night.
“We knew that (ECI) was a good team,” Metter linebacker Conner West said. “We’ve been working hard all season and we really wanted to have a good game after last year.”
Still, there was plenty of drama. The Bulldogs showed their championship pedigree when given a final shot at victory. On its final drive, ECI got to the Metter 1 yard line before a penalty forced a fourth-and-goal to decide the game.
The Metter defense wrestled down ECI quarterback Jacoby Boatwright at the 2 to seal the win.
As the Tigers celebrated, Mike West was quick to praise his veteran leaders.
“We have a very special group of seniors,” West said, referencing Jeffery Love, Wes McManus, Bland Tucker, Jacob Wedincamp and Charlie Johnson and Conner West. “These guys are such a huge part of this team. We don’t have a lot of players or a lot of seniors, but they’re leaders that are helping us get where we want to be.”
As big as the win was, the Tigers are already moving forward.
Metter won’t play again until Sept. 6, but all nine of the Tigers’ remaining games are Region 2-AA tilts that will determine its state playoff chances.
“We were glad to get the win,” Conner West said. “It was a lot of fun, but we know that we have to go right back to work.”
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.