The game against rival Tabb High has become something of an annual Three Mile Island for Grafton's program. This year's meltdown saw the Clippers fall deep into a first-half hole via three turnovers and a blocked punt, all of which the Tigers converted into scores.
But it was more than simply Grafton mistakes that resulted in Tabb's 22-0 victory in their Bay Rivers District game Friday at Bailey Field. The Tigers (3-3, 3-2) played a perfect game defensively, limiting the Clippers to minus-15 yards of offense behind six quarterback sacks.
There were stars everywhere on the Tabb defense. Tackle Thomas St. John made a host of big tackles and returned a fumble 32 yards to set up a touchdown.
Linebackers Dylan Evans, Ian Haislip and Joe Nelson relentlessly pressured Grafton quarterback Joe Cibrin, and cornerback Chris Ham blanketed Clippers star Ryan Johansen, who did not catch a pass.
"That's the best defense we've played in a long while," Tabb coach Matt Lawson said.
The first Grafton mistake was a high punt snap. Tabb's Dylan Evans took advantage by charging in and blocking the punt, which Michael Quintana recovered at the Clippers' 22.
Tabb could not produce a first down on three rushing attempts after the recovery, but Nick Henderson kicked a 32-yard field goal to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead.
On the next play from scrimmage, Haislip made a nice interception, stepping in front of Dylan Stallings and tipping the ball into the air before making an off-balance snag at the Grafton 39. Rex Harrison's 17-yard pass to Corey Patrick set up Henderson's 26-yard field goal that increased the Tigers' lead to 6-0 late in the first quarter.
Another nifty interception put Tabb back in business two plays later. Ham timed Cibrin's long pass to Johansen perfectly, stepping in front of the Grafton receiver to make the theft.
"We think Chris is as good as anyone in the district at cornerback and wide receiver," Lawson said.
Moments after the interception, Ham confirmed the receiving skill Lawson referred to. He made an acrobatic catch over Johansen along the sideline for a 22-yard gain, the biggest play in the Tigers' eight-play, 73-yard touchdown drive.
Harrison capped the series by throwing the ball in between two Grafton defenders on a 19-yard touchdown pass to Haislip that made it 12-0 early in the second quarter.
"Rex placed that ball perfectly," Haislip said. "That was an unbelievable throw."
Henderson and the Tigers cashed in on yet another Clippers mistake, a Cibrin fumble that Dillon Biagas recovered at the Grafton 23. Again, the Clippers held the Tigers without a first down, but Tabb got its payoff via Henderson's 33-yard field goal that upped the Tigers' lead to 15-0 midway through the second quarter.
Another miscue by the Clippers (4-2, 3-2) led to Tabb's next touchdown, the only score of the second half. Evans blasted Cibrin for a 10-yard sack, forcing a fumble that St. John picked up off the wet carpet and ran to the Grafton 10.
Biagas ran the ball in for a touchdown from the 3 two plays later to give the Tigers a 22-0 lead. The remainder of the game was a showcase for the Tabb defense.
On one fourth-quarter series, the Tigers sacked Cibrin twice, tackled a runner in the backfield and had stopped the Clippers for minus-28 yards after a botched punt snap.
"Everyone came together and made plays on the defense tonight," Evans said.
TABB 22, GRAFTON 0Tabb
6970 — 22Grafton
0000 — 0Tabb: FG Henderson 32
Tabb: FG Henderson 26
Tabb: Haislip 19 pass from Harrison (run failed)
Tabb: FG Henderson 33
Tabb: Biagas 3 run (Henderson kick)
TEAM STATSTabbGraFirst downs104Rushes-yards47-17224-minus 31Passing yards7416Comp-Att-Int4-10-04-13-3Punts-avg.3-32.35-32.8Penalties-yards6-502-10Fumbles-lost1-02-1Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun