Facing a 10-point halftime deficit against Klein Cain on Sept. 6, Tompkins coach Todd McVey said he had to remind his team of its potential—who the Falcons were and what they wanted to accomplish this year—during the 24-minute break.
“I was fired up,” McVey said. “That's not who they want to be. If they want to be who they want to be, they need to come out and perform like that … Do your job and play for your brother. That was the biggest thing. Play for each other.”
It was a message that clearly reverberated with the Falcons, as they scored 35 unanswered points en route to a 42-24 win at Legacy Stadium to go to 2-0 on the young season. Senior R.J. Smith led the way out of the backfield, rushing for two touchdowns and catching another from junior quarterback Jalen Milroe. At one point, Milroe completed 10 straight passes, and he finished with two touchdown passes and a rushing score as well.
Smith said he was encouraged by his coaches to keep working, and to keep hitting the holes they anticipated the offensive line opening up.
“My coaches kept telling me, trust it, trust it, trust it, and one of them will breakaway. That's what I did,” Smith said.
Class 6A’s top returning rusher had a frustrating first half—10 carries for 21 yards—but finished with 19 carries for 99 yards. That average of roughly five yards a carry was within the goal set by himself and his coaches.
“I really just want to improve trusting those holes, and getting what we call four more yards,” he said. “If you get four, we're going to eventually get a first down.”
Tompkins took the second half kickoff and started from its own 19-yard line. After a five-yard carry by Smith, Milroe connected down the sideline with senior wideout Taurean Muhammad for 24 yards. On the next two plays, Smith ran for 34 yards and caught a slant out of the backfield for an 18-yard touchdown.
The Falcons forced a three-and-out on the next Klein Cain possession, and it only took three plays to take a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Milroe connected with Muhammad for 56 yards down the middle of the field, and a facemask penalty on Klein Cain set up first-and-goal from the 10. Smith ran for four yards, and Milroe faked a hand-off to Smith and kept it for a six-yard touchdown run.
McVey stressed that in come-from-behind and pressure situations like the ones Tompkins faced against Klein Cain, he would be leaning on his veteran players. In addition to Milroe and Smith, Muhammad had an impressive night with five catches for 139 yards.
In the first half, McVey thought his team might have still been relishing its season-opening 66-14 win against Fort Bend Austin from the previous week. Klein Cain ran a no-huddle offense most of the first half, but it stalled in the second as Tompkins made stops, including a big interception by junior cornerback Dru Polidore.
“We said, listen, they're going to go fast, but it's hard to emulate that in practice, and they're going to get some, but eventually we've got to adjust to it,” McVey said. “They had a couple of wrinkles that were different than we thought, but the coaches did a great job making adjustments, and the players, it still comes down to tackling. We started tackling better in the second half.”
McVey said that going forward, he expected his team would know the importance of playing two halves, especially against better teams in district play.
“Every team is going to be a new challenge,” he said. “We've got some new guys in the locker room that are learning that, and this is why we play these pre-district games. I was proud of our seniors and our veteran guys stepping up in the second half and leading the way, like we're supposed to play, and just playing one play at a time and not getting caught up in the emotion of the game.”