By Steve Williams
Mason Phillips was asked if he would be sore in the morning.
“Oh, I won’t be able to get out of the bed tomorrow,” laughed the Anderson County sophomore after carrying the ball 43 times for 292 yards and five touchdowns in leading the Mavericks to a 51-47 win over arch-rival Clinton Friday night.
The AC workhorse didn’t appear to be tired at all after the Mavs erased a 21-point halftime deficit and outscored the homestanding Dragons 25-6 in the fourth quarter for their 16th win in the past 17 meetings in this county rivalry.
“No, I was into the game,” said Phillips, who scored three TDs in the final quarter, including a 9-yard run with 54.2 seconds left that proved to be the game-winner. “My heart was pumping. I was just excited to be in this ball game.
“It’s the biggest game on the schedule, the most important game of the year. I had zero doubt. I knew we could come in here and whip Clinton.”
It didn’t look like that would be the case early on, as the Dragons made three big plays in the opening two minutes to take a 13-0 lead.
Someone even asked when the TSSAA mercy rule would go into effect after Clinton increased its advantage to 27-6 in the second quarter and appeared to be on its way to snapping the Mavs’ six-game win streak in the series.
“We wanted it more than any game this season,” said Tyler Thackerson, Clinton’s talented senior quarterback. “We just didn’t execute when we needed to. We were up early in the first half and we just couldn’t finish the game.”
Thackerson completed 9 of 15 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns in the first half and also had a 1-yard TD run. But his game was off after intermission as he was intercepted four times.
The Dragons, down by four points, were in desperation mode on their final possession, starting at their 44-yard line with one timeout and 49.1 seconds on the clock. Thackerson’s 11-yard pass to Demarea Whitt picked up a first down at the AC 45. But the Clinton QB couldn’t handle the snap on the next play and was smothered for a 12-yard loss.
The Mav’s Marquise Gallahar stepped in front of J’Quan Thomas to intercept Thackerson’s final toss with 15.1 seconds to go.
Thackerson finished the night 19 for 40 overall for 236 yards and three TDs. He also totaled 101 yards rushing on 15 carries.
Phillips said he “never dreamed” of carrying the ball so much and his previous most carries in a game had been 15 to 20. “It was a great experience.”
“My line did an excellent job,” he added. “I couldn’t have asked more from anyone.”
Phillips rushed for 94 yards in the first half on 17 carries but didn’t reach paydirt until a 1-yard plunge to start the second half when the Mavericks came out of the dressing room playing with a sense of urgency.
Phillips took the first handoff after intermission and ran through the Dragons like a bowling ball, gaining 34 yards on his longest run of the night. His next three TDs were from the 5, 2 and 1-yard lines.
Senior quarterback Tate Holmes complimented the young running back.
“He’s a huge asset to our offense. He’s a hard runner and the heart of our offense.”
Holmes said Anderson County coach Davey Gillum’s halftime message was: “Keep fighting, keep fighting. Do not give up. And that’s what we did.”
Holmes contributed a 31-yard touchdown run in his team’s big fourth quarter output. He called the win over Clinton “huge.”
“We made too many mistakes in the second half and let them get back in it,” said Clinton coach Josh Kerr.
Kerr also was impressed by Phillips.
“He’s a tough kid. He’s going forward, he’s hard to bring down and he’s always fighting for extra yards. He doesn’t exactly have breakaway speed, but he’s just a tough, physical runner, low to the ground and keeps on churning. And for what they do on offense, he’s ideal for it.”
Travis Patrick got behind the secondary to haul in a 44-yard pass from Thackerson for Dragons’ first score. Seconds later, the ball squirted out of Cale Brock’s grasp and Whitt’s scoop and score covered 17 yards.
Thomas snagged a pair of touchdown passes from Thackerson, a 9-yarder in the second quarter and a 20-yarder in the third quarter.
Isaiah Vibbert’s 9-yard touchdown run gave Clinton its last lead (47-45) with 3:21 to go.
Thyshad Thrasher scored twice for the Mavericks, catching a 28-yard pass from Holmes on the last play of the first quarter and tallying on a controversial 30-yard fumble return in the third quarter that cut Clinton’s lead to 27-18.
Anderson County, which graduated 17 starters last season, including 10 on offense, evened its season record at 3-3 and will host Catholic in an important Region 2-4A game this Friday.
Clinton (2-4) will try to bounce back at Lenoir City in a key Region 3-5A matchup.