Two things can usually be counted on when the Tucker Tigers and Northside Eagles meet on a football field: Championship implications will hang in the balance, and the winner likely will be decided in the game’s final moments.
For the third time in the past 10 seasons, the two teams will square off in the semifinals. All three previous meetings in the series between Tucker and Northside — two semifinals, one quarterfinal — have come in the past 10 years, and each has been decided by a field goal or less.
The Eagles and the Tigers have combined to win five GHSA championships since 2006.
“Whoever is winning at halftime normally loses,” Tucker head coach Bryan Lamar said. “It’s just one of those series where you never know until the final horn blows. Both teams are very similar. We’re a bit different in how we do things, but similar in the aspect of being fast, being physical and being well-coached. When you get two teams that are that similar, I think the game just comes down to mistakes and execution.”
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Tucker enters this year’s GHSA Class 6A semifinal on a roll. The Tigers have reeled off 12 straight victories since a season-opening loss to Kell, and they’ve done it with a usual mix of defensive supremacy and a traditional wing-T attack.
The Tigers have two rushers with more than 1,000 yards this season, but they likely will go four-deep in the backfield against Northside with the return of senior Samuel Bryant from injury.
“Taurean Taylor is a junior and a really explosive kid and a fast kid,” Lamar said. “Chris Broadwater is about 6 feet, 215 pounds, and he was our leading rusher last year. They’re a little bit like thunder and lightning. Bryant had about 900 yards last year, and we also have a sophomore in David Davis.”
In the age of the spread offense, Tucker has remained steadfast in its philosophy to run the football first and scheme around the talent on its roster, but the emergence of junior Josh Vann on the outside has given Lamar a chance to open up his offense.
Vann averages more than 21 yards per reception, has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark and has caught 11 touchdowns this season from quarterback Xavier Shephard Jr.
“We don’t always have big linemen, so for us to be able to block people we have to angle block,” Lamar said. “Sometimes we’re bigger than others, but just on a consistent basis running the football while playing good defense and special teams is our philosophy.
“(Vann) has tremendous ball skills. He may have some of the best hands I’ve ever seen on a kid. I’ve lost count on the amount of one-handed catches he has this year, but he’s tremendous.”
Defensively, the Tigers are a base 3-3-5 and are again blessed with excellent defensive linemen. Tucker has accumulated 39 sacks on the season, including 14.5 from former Alabama commitment Aaron Sterling. He’s complimented by the play of fellow Division I prospect Antonio Showers, who has nine sacks of his own despite missing the better part of five games with an ankle injury.
Showers aggravated the injury last week in the win over Mays but will play against Northside. The Tigers will need him as they deal with the option look of the Eagles and recent Georgia Tech commitment Tobias Oliver.
“Obviously Tobias Oliver is a tremendous player,” Lamar said. “We’re going to have to do a good job of being disciplined and taking the dive, the quarterback and the pitch because he’s going to make a good decision every time. Not only can he give you the threat of running and throwing the football, he’s a great decision maker. They’re physical as always up front, the running backs run hard, and they have great skill position players on the outside. We’re going to have our hands full.”
This is the first meeting between Tucker and Northside in DeKalb County’s Hallford Stadium, Tucker’s playoff home-away-from-home. The two teams had previously met twice in the Georgia Dome and once at McConnell-Talbert Stadium.
The kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm.