The greatest game of Tavaris Jones’ high school career came exactly one year ago against the same Rutland Hurricanes that he faced that night.
That night, Jones came in for injured all-state running back Adrian Alexander to rush for more than 80 yards and ensure Southwest beat Rutland 7-0 in the season opener for both teams.
A year later on the same field, Jones topped his personal best by rushing for 148 yards and two touchdowns on 41 carries to lead the Patriots to a 14-6 win over Rutland on Friday at Henderson Stadium.
It’s the Patriots’ fifth straight win over Bibb County schools dating back to last year’s win over Rutland.
“This year is different,” Jones said. “I have to be a leader now. I have to be a leader for my team.”
So much of what Southwest did last year on offense came on the strength of Alexander’s game-breaking ability. The Patriots had to find a guy to fill at least some of Alexander’s big shoes. It turns out, head coach Carror Wright didn’t have to look any further than the player who filled in for Alexander last season.
“Adrian Alexander was blessed with so much God-given ability,” Wright said. “(Jones) doesn’t have that same physical ability. But he has heart, and he gave us everything his 145-pound body had (Friday).”
Jones was the lone offensive bright spot in a game filled mistakes and miscues.
The Hurricanes fumbled the ball 12 times, losing three of them. Southwest added seven fumbles, losing two.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in a football game,” Rutland head coach George Collins said. “We couldn’t do anything right when we needed it. Fumbles just killed every good drive we had. Southwest battled fumbles too, but they overcame it. We didn’t.”
The first half was reminiscent of last year’s season opener between the teams. Neither team really ever got into a rhythm on offense.
Southwest edged Rutland in last year’s season opener, a game in which the Hurricanes lost their starting quarterback on the first play from scrimmage.
This year, Southwest quarterback J.T. Miller injured his leg on his team’s first possession, but he returned and played most of the game. But his mobility was severely limited, which meant Jones was going to be the go-to player. All but nine plays after the first quarter were handoffs to Jones.
“We got those two touchdowns and then asked our defense to save us,” Wright said. “They did a great job.”
After Rutland took a 6-0 lead on a 31-yard touchdown run by Michael Johnson, Southwest responded with a 10-play, 67-yard touchdown drive that was capped by Jones’ 11-yard run. That drive was the only one of more than 50 yards by either team in the game.
The Patriots got some breathing room later when their punt hit a Rutland player in the back. They took over on the Rutland 31 and scored eight plays later on a 2-yard plunge by Jones.
Rutland finished the game with 14 plays of negative yardage, many of which resulted from fumbles.
But the Hurricanes still had a chance late when they drove inside the Southwest 30-yard line with 45 seconds to play. But Colby Clarington’s pass was batted down by Chase Nelson on fourth-and-5 to seal the Southwest win.