The first half of Tate’s Region 1-6A final win over Niceville seemed too good to be true for the Aggies.
The Aggies led 21-0 going to the break against a team that had outscored them 140-48 in the previous five meetings.
But the Eagles wouldn’t go down without a fight, and with less than seven minutes to play turned a 21-3 deficit into a three-point game after a clutch two-point conversion.
A nicely-executed squib kick by Niceville with just under two minutes to play pinned the Aggies back to their own 2-yard line.
Tate was able to run the clock down to 10 seconds, but were faced with a tough decision after failing to move the ball past their own 10-yard line.
The Aggies elected to drain the clock a little more, intentionally taking a safety to run the clock down to five seconds.
All that stood between Tate and a trip to the state semifinals was a kickoff.
Tate didn’t allow a return, and after the play ended, the Aggies officially advanced to the state semifinals for the first time since 2000 by holding on for the 21-20 win over the Eagles.
“The biggest thing … I’m just so proud of how far we’ve come as a team,” Tate coach Jay Lindsey said. “This team has done great at staying the course and believing in each other.
“We jumped on them (Niceville) early, stayed up and believed we could pull it off. We came away with a win against a great football program.”
Early on, it looked like it would be much easier than anyone anticipated.
The Aggies’ first score came a mere 14 seconds into the game, on the first play from scrimmage.
Alondo Thompkins took an outside carry left and raced for an 80-yard touchdown.
Sawyer Smith put the Aggies up 14-0 with a 2-yard run, and Jake Henry had a highlight-reel catch and run for 64 yards to shock the overflow crowd on the Niceville side.
The only blow dealt to the Aggies’ offense in the first half was an injury sustained by Thompkins, who ended up missing the rest of the game.
“I really don’t know much right now (about Thompkins’ status),” Lindsey said. “I’m just so proud of that young man (Thompkins). He is completely sold out to his team and has meant so much to this team.”
To keep the momentum in Tate’s favor, on Niceville’s second drive, Aggie defensive back Josh Kea put down a hard hit to jar the ball loose for an Aggie fumble recovery.
Then midway through the second quarter, as Niceville threatened in Aggies’ territory, Kea elevated to intercept a pass in his own end zone to preserve a 21-0 lead.
“I’m still processing how I feel right now,” said Kea, all smiles after the game. “This game was do or die. Defensively, we’ve really come together in the playoffs.
“We’ve been close all year … we were just missing a few parts in a few games. Now we’re really coming together, and our offense is doing the same.”
The win kept Tate perfect on the road this season, and perfect in their mythical white jerseys.
“They are just magical,” said Kea, referring to Tate’s uniforms. “We feel different in them. On that interception, that was the highest I’ve jumped in my life. It’s because of the whites.”
Who: Tate vs. Armwood
What: Class 6A state semifinals
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Armwood High School