Needing a win for a shot at a region title and to keep pace in the Class A public school power rankings, Mt. Zion (6-4) ultimately ran out of steam.
"Again, our kids played their hearts out and fought to the very end. We were banged up going in and lost a couple kids during the game, but we never quit. Just proud of our seniors. They played their hearts out and had a great season. Proud for the community, too. I wish we could go on. Our goal was to make the playoffs, but we fell a bit short on that. We accomplished a lot this year," first-year MZ coach Keith Holloway said.
The game started off with a flurry of offense, as both teams scored in six plays on their opening possessions. First, it was Mt. Paran (3-7) going 73 yards — mostly through Kyle Trammell — but in the end it was quarterback Jake Allen taking it in from one-yard out, and with Daniel Gray's extra point Mt. Paran led, 7-0.
Mt. Zion responded with an 80-yard drive of its own, getting 70 of those yards on one T.K. Tuggle run. MZ quarterback Tristen Puckett finished it off with a one-yard sneak of his own. On the extra point try, Holloway decided to go for a fake and, serving as the holder, Puckett pulled the ball back and found Matt Turner with a pass to go up, 8-7.
From there, both offenses struggled to get anything going.
The next three Mt. Zion possessions ended in punts, while Mt. Paran punted twice and had a fumble recovered by MZ's Fernando Valles. But on Mt. Paran's next-to-last drive of the half, it was helped out by a pass interference call that nullified Tuggle's interception in the end zone and allowed it to keep the ball. Three plays later, Trammell found the end zone on a screen pass from Allen from four yards out to take a 14-8 lead.
With 29 seconds left in the half, Nick Sbravati intercepted a Puckett pass that led to a last-second field goal attempt, but the 42-yard try from Daniel Gray fell short.
Taking the second half kick, Mt. Zion got a 59-yard pass play from Puckett to Tuggle, but the drive stalled out at the 18-yard line and MZ turned the ball over on downs. That led to another one-yard run for Allen, as Mt. Paran opened up a two-possession lead at 21-8.
On the next drive, Mt. Zion answered right back, as a halfback pass from T.J. Garrett to Puckett for 30 yards helped set up a 10-yard touchdown pass from Puckett to Corey Loftin. The two-point try failed for a 21-14 score.
After that, it was all Mt. Paran.
The visitors capitalized on a fumble with a 43-yard run from Trammell and an interception resulted in a scoring run of 17 yards from Dallas Kepler to round out the scoring at 35-14.
Tuggle led a banged up MZ offense with 86 yards rushing on 12 carries and caught one pass for 59 yards. Puckett finished the night 4-of-14 passing for 101 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions.
"T.K. Tuggle, he's all heart. Not very big, but he's all heart and we get him back next year. T.J. Garrett, Matt Turner, our whole backfield, was juniors except for our quarterback. We'll be OK. We'll get things going," Holloway said.
The Mt. Zion defense couldn't contain Trammell, who rushed for 200 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown.
"We felt coming in this was the last game and we were just going to put the ball in the hands of our best player. Kyle has just gotten better. He hasn't played a lot of football, he's been a baseball guy, but he's gotten better every week. I think he wants to play college football and he's going to be a great player for somebody," Mt. Paran coach Mitch Jordan said.
Even though Mt. Zion might not make the playoffs, a 6-4 season was the best season since going 6-6 in 2001.
"The positive is the kids believe when they walk out on the field they can win. I think that was the big turnaround. I give a lot of credit to our seniors and our coaching staff. Our kids believed they had a chance to win every game. We came up short [Friday], lost to a good team, but it will carry over into next year. We'll establish a program. We'll get it going," Holloway said.