CAIRO — Carver-Columbus had the antidote to Cairo’s comeback success Saturday in the Class AAA state championship game — a heavy dose of Deron Furr and Jarmon Fortson.

After Cairo rallied to take its first lead of the game with just 3:11 remaining at West Thomas Stadium, Carver responded with an 80-yard drive to escape with a 16-13 win for its first state title.

Prior to the Tigers’ late heroics, it appeared Cairo (13-2) was going to thrive again thanks to a spirited second-half rally. Trailing 9-0 at halftime and having mustered just 89 yards of offense, the Syrupmakers seized control on a 14-play, 98-yard drive that ended with a one-yard dive from running back Reginald Bryant with little more than three minutes left. However, that was more than enough time for Carvers’ duo of future Auburn Tigers.

Furr, who threw for 154 yards on the game and rushed for 50 more, and Fortson, who hauled in eight passes for 109 yards and added a three-yard touchdown run in the first half, went back to work one more time. After leading the Tigers (15-0) to a 26-24 win against Chamblee in a semifinal Dec. 7 after trailing 24-6 heading into the fourth, the two seniors each came up with big plays on Carver’s final drive.

Fortson hauled in his final three passes on the drive, including a 13-yarder on second-and-16. That catch helped set up a three-yard Furr run on fourth-and-2. The 6-foot-3, 212-pounder would rush for 36 more yards on the drive, including the 25-yard touchdown scamper with 1:01 left for the game-winner. Fortson then added a sack of Cairo quarterback Angelo Pease on the ensuing possession, helping to dash the Syrupmakers’ hopes.

“You know, a 98-yard drive to go and take a lead with 3 minutes to go, you have to give Carver credit — they’re a championship team and they showed why,” Cairo coach Tom Fallaw said.

Still, that championship drive from the Tigers followed an equally impressive march from the Syrupmakers. After Furr pinned Cairo at its own 2 with a 45-yard punt, the Syrupmakers churned out a 14-play drive that milked 7:51 off the clock. Bryant, who entered the fourth with only 25 yards on 12 carries, muscled out 54 on the go-ahead drive. Pease added in 44 more as the Syrupmakers never went to the air on the drive.

“It was just want to,” Fallaw said of the Syrupmakers’ march. “I think early their kids were pretty jacked about playing and I think late our kids were jacked about playing with that momentum swing. That’s all it is.

“Those holes were there early, we just couldn’t break that tackle to make it a gain of 12 instead of 5. Nothing changed.”

Added Carver coach Dell McGee: “That’s one heck of a football team we beat right there. Coming in here we felt like that’s the best team we've seen all year.”

Still, there was a change in the Syrupmakers in the second half. Cairo mounted two long drives in the first half, but penalties caused the scoring opportunities to fizzle at Carver’s 30 and 25. Cairo was whistled for four penalties in the opening half.

“We had two long drives, but we just didn’t punch it in when we needed to,” Fallaw said. “We had some costly penalties and I think in the second half, we just eliminated those penalties.

“You’ve got to give our kids credit for doing that, they came out here and made a game of it. They stood up when their backs were up against the wall and fell just about one-inch short.”

The Syrupmakers’ surge began with a little help from the Tigers. After Cairo’s first possession of the second half stalled at Carver’s 35 after 11 plays and more than eight minutes, the Syrupmakers’ defense stuffed Carver, forcing a three-and-out. However, Cairo burst through the Tigers’ punt protection and the Syrupmakers’ Jerry Bodiford threw Fortson for a 10-yard loss, giving Cairo possession at the Tigers’ 7.

Two plays later, Pease found Bradlyn Anderson open in the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown and the Syrupmakers’ comeback was on.

“At halftime, we were just talking about having to battle back,” junior defensive lineman Montavious Williams said. “We’ve always battled back.

Added Bryant: “It’s just like the first halves we’re warming up and then we go into the field house and it’s just the players talking to players about their mistakes. Then, we come back out there and learn off each other.

“Coach always said we’re a second-half team. We came out here in the second half and did what we didn’t do in the first half and put points up on the board. But, still, it wasn’t enough to beat them.”

Not with Furr and Fortson on Carver’s side. Fortson hauled in a 23-yard pass on Carver’s first scoring drive, which ended with a 31-yard field goal from Carlos Ross, and jumped over Cairo defensive back Xavier Jordan on 28-yard catch to place the Tigers on the Cairo 1 to set up his own touchdown run midway through the second.

“We have athletes and they have athletes,” Bryant said. “Our athletes just didn’t make the plays that theirs did.”

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