Ripley senior Sentavius Hunt was a freshman three years ago when the Tigers suffered a heartbreaking first-round exit at the hands of the Yazoo City Indians. This past Friday night, however, Hunt surely etched his name in the Ripley history books when, with 24 seconds left in his season, he returned a kickoff 75 yards for a game-clinching touchdown and a 34-28 victory over the Indians.
Ripley (4-6) moves on to face Pontotoc in round two of the Class 4A playoffs while the Indians season abruptly ends at 3-4.
The Indians were in the driver’s seat, leading 20-15 heading into the fourth quarter before the Tigers rallied and scored twice on a pair of seven-yard touchdown runs by Immanuel Griffin, the second coming after the Tigers recovered an untimely Indian fumble.
With 2:55 left to play and Ripley now leading 27-20, Yazoo City bounced back and went on a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive, culminating in a 4-yard TD pass from Christopher Burnett to Chris Bell, giving the Indians a 28-27 lead. After Hunt’s ensuing kickoff return and extra point, the Indians had one second remaining to try and answer with a kickoff return of their own.
“I was surprised that they kicked it to him,” said first-year Ripley head coach Perry Liles. “After we scored, we still had to kick it back to them with one second to go so I was still nervous. Both teams played really hard and it was a back-and-forth game that either team had the opportunity to win. We just had the ball last and were blessed with the opportunity to win. I’m proud of our kids for not giving up and fighting through adversity and coming away with the win.”
A stunned Yazoo City head coach David Parker tried to find the words to explain the closing events of Friday’s game.
“That was a pretty hard way to lose a game. I’ve never had that happen to me and I’ve only seen it happen one other time,” said Parker. “We just didn’t go down and make a tackle. Maybe we relaxed too much and didn’t focus on that last play. It’s just one of those things that happens. I told my guys after the game though that playing in that game with a chance to win is something we can build on.”
Yazoo City opened the game with a pair of rushing touchdowns from senior Rosonia Stiff (2 yards) and Travion Reese (2 yards). Hunt scored Ripley’s only first quarter touchdown on a 10-yard run and the Indians led 14-7.
Shaudell Carter scored a second-quarter touchdown giving the Tigers a 15-14 lead but Indian senior Devan Drain found paydirt minutes before the half on a three-yard run to give Yazoo City their 20-15 halftime lead.
The Indians finished the game with more yards of total offense (300 to 248), more passing yards (104 yards to 34 yards), more first downs (15 to 11) and fewer turnovers (1 to 2) than Ripley but, thanks to Hunt’s heroics, still found themselves on the wrong side of the win-loss column.
Burnett led a balanced Indian rushing attack with 62 yards on nine carries. Drain had nine carries for 40 yards, Reese had 38 yards on eight carries and Stiff had 28 yards on nine carries.
Burnett completed 13-of-20 passes for 104 yards. Bell was the leading receiver with five receptions for 40 yards. Reese had two catches for 27 yards and Anthony Brown 20 yards on two receptions.
Defensively the Indians were led by senior linebacker Allen Hudson with 10 tackles (six solo), Bell with seven and Brown with six. Calvion Clayborn had three tackles and a forced fumble.
While it was not the way Parker wanted the season to end, he is confident that this experience will be the driving force that puts the Indians back in playoff contention next season.
“It always hurts to lose like this but from a coaching standpoint and trying to build a program, I believe this will make us better,” says Parker. “Early in the year, that kind of game is one the kids may have given up, but they didn’t quit. They battled back and, in all honesty, should have won that one. They stayed together and didn’t fight amongst each other. Now we’ve got to take advantage of this offseason. This year with the pandemic hitting right around the time I was hired, we were limited a lot with what we could do. Hopefully, we’ll be able to have spring football and a full off-season. That will help us make a huge leap in our program.”
Parker also recognizes that any future successes can be attributed to the foundation laid by this year’s senior class.
Added Parker: “I told my seniors that I wish I had them as freshmen all the way through. The biggest thing I told them is that even though we finished 3-4, they have helped build a foundation for what we are going to be able to do for years to come. The kids have learned how to prepare for ball games. They know now what it takes to become a winner and I owe that to these seniors. They have truly led the way. Any success we have moving forward will belong to them because they helped build the foundation for it.”