By Robert Wilson
Offensive linemen units over the years have called themselves names like Hogs, the Power Company, the Foundation, and the Pack.
The Tri-County Academy offensive front doesn’t have a name for themselves, but they can be called this after Friday afternoon: state champions.
Tri-County’s offensive line paved the way for 225 rushing yards and led the Rebels to a 26-13 victory over Bowling Green, La., for the MAIS Class 4A state championship at Jackson Academy in Northeast Jackson.
Tri-County finished 12-1 – its only loss a 40-35 decision to MHSAA Class 1A semifinalist Taylorsville – and won its sixth state championship in school history and second one in three seasons. The Rebels have been to the state title game three consecutive season, finishing runner-up last season. Tri-County won 12 games for the third straight season and has a 38-4 record – an amazing 90.4 winning percentage – in the last three years.
A big part of those wins has been the offensive front, made up of senior left tackle Connor Hillman (6-foot-4, 245 pounds), senior left guard Reed Taylor (6-foot, 285), senior center Nathan Selph (6-1, 225), freshman right guard Cooper Green (5-10, 183) and senior right tackle Will Barker (6-foot, 220), who opened up plenty of holes for the running backs and protecting junior quarterback Bryce Warriner in Friday’s state title win.
Hillman, who was one of the captains Friday, has been playing with a broken collarbone for the three weeks.
“Playing with this injury was a no brainer,” Hillman said. “It was huge winning the championship. Our guys have worked extremely hard all year for this moment and for the playoffs I knew I couldn’t just play. Our guys up front did a great job being physical like we have been all year because at the end of the day, whoever is the most physical will win.”
Bowling Green took a 7-0 lead, then Tri-County went to work and Warriner scored on a 3-yard run and completed a 36-yard touchdown pass to junior Brayden Walsh for a 12-7 halftime lead. Tri-County never trailed again. Sophomore Cooper Johnson ran for two TDs in the second half.
Senior wide receiver Jacob Clearman led the offensive charge with 68 rushing yards and 63 receiving yards. Warriner completed 8 of 13 passes for 151 yards and one TD without an interception and ran for 68 yards. Clearman finished the season with 1,094 receiving yards and 14 TDs. Warriner finished with 2,336 yards and 26 TDs and 564 rushing yards and 11 TDs.
“I am proud of our guys who fought for four quarters,” said Tri-County coach Philip Wasson, who won his fourth state title (two at Tri-County and two at Washington School) and has been in six state championship games in 18 career seasons. “Bryce Warriner played a great game and extended the play several times. Receivers Hayden Walsh and Hayden Smith played well. I am extremely proud of how we got in heavy personnel and finished the fourth quarter running the ball every play with Bryce and Cooper Johnson. Our line dominated the fourth quarter.
“Our defense played great. I am proud of the way we swarmed to the ball. They scored first and our defense did not let that bother them. We continued to get stronger in the fourth quarter on defense. I was proud our defensive end Pearce Giles, who played with a torn ACL. He is having surgery Monday.”
Tri-County kept speedy Bowling Green wide receiver and Oklahoma commitment Kelly Daniels, who transferred from Franklinton, La., High during the season, out of the end zone. Daniels, who ran a 10.94 second 100-meter dash and a 4.4-second 40, had 75 rushing yards on seven carries. He is possibly the fastest player in the MAIS.
First-year Bowling Green coach Jason Johnson took a team that had didn’t win a game two years ago to the state championship game and a 9-4 record. It was the first appearance in a state title game since 2000 and third in school history. Bowling Green has won one state title in 1997.