For two quarters, host Washington looked more like the 4-1 Tate squad it was facing then what its own 1-4 record indicated.
But the Aggies soon showed why they are top team to be reckoned within the district, as they pulled away in the second half en route to a 31-21 victory Friday night at Sherman Robinson Field.
Clinging to a 17-14 lead at the break, the Aggies soon marched down the field in the second half. They answered with two touchdowns in the final five minutes of the third, and defensively stopped the Wildcats to pull away for their first district win of the season.
“Our effort was there — we made some mistakes, but it wasn’t for lack of effort,” Tate head coach Jay Lindsay said. “Washington played their tails off. Defensively, we gave up some yards, but I think we still held them to 21 points, so that’s not a bad night. Offensively, they did a good job with our run game in the second half, but at the same time we threw for four touchdown passes, so we did so some balance in that aspect.
“The bottom line is we’ve just got to continue to get better. We’re shooting to championship-caliber level football — I don’t think we’re there yet, but we’ll take 1-0 in the district.”
Tate (5-1, 1-0) showed its meddle after halftime. After forcing the Wildcats to punt, the Aggies drove down to the 2-yard line. Washington’s defense held true as three straight runs were stuffed at the line, but on fourth-and-goal, Jake Henry connected with Raymond Freeman with 4:53 left in the third for a touchdown and kicker Evan Legassey notched the point after to make it a 24-14 game.
The Aggies would soon find paydirt again, thanks in large part to their defense, as Patrick Palmer ended a promising Washington drive with an interception near midfield.
“We were up by one possession, and they were driving, and that was one of the big drives of the game,” said Palmer, who also recovered a late onsides kick and intercepted a pass on the game’s final play. “We capitalized on it and got the pick. I had my man and he just did a slant and I just ran with him and he threw it behind him a little bit. I jumped back behind him and picked it off. I think tonight was pretty big deal — we did good last year, and we’ve got to keep that going this year.”
Following the interception, Henry found Rodriguez Smith for a 23-yard touchdown strike just before the quarterback was hit by a defender.
Washington mounted a strong drive on its ensuing possession, but it stalled on fourth down from the Tate 12 as a pass fell incomplete in the end zone.
The Cats scored on a late touchdown pass from Andre Hunt to Darius Anderson with 1:44 left, but Tate proved too tough in the end.
“Our guys gave a great effort, but like everything else, we didn’t take advantage of our opportunities — we made mistakes on offense that gave them short fields, but I’m proud of the effort they gave,” Washington head coach Charlie Ward said. “They didn’t quit. We have to continue to work. Our guys competed, and when it came down to it, it was mistakes and that’s what’s been killing us all year.
“We haven’t taken advantage of them, and we’ve given them extra opportunities. Defensively, we played well, and we were able to hold them a couple of times to keep it close. We just have to continue to learn from it, and move on.”
Despite the win, Tate’s senior leading signal caller sees much room for improvement.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do — we didn’t play our best game and made a lot of mistakes that we’ve got to fix,” Henry said. “But we played as a team pretty well, and it’s the first district win, so that’s big. After halftime, we started blocking and remembering what we were already going over.
“Our defense held them, and we got a couple of key picks and made some big plays on defense, and our offense just kept pounding the ball and we came away with it. We’re excited for this one.”