RULEVILLE – It's on to the MHSAA 3A playoffs for Winona following a 35-7 victory over Ruleville Central that enabled the Tigers to finish the regular season 8-2 and second in Region 3-1A with a 3-1 record.
Winona will have a home game against a strong Houston team. “We're going to have our hands full. That's for sure,” said Coach Joey Tompkins.
The Tigers rolled up 482 yards against Ruleville, 351 on the ground, and averaged 11 and a half yards per play, Sophomore Dennis Turner carried 14 times for 194 yards, with a 75-yard TD run and an 82-yard run that set up a touchdown. Turner is the starting tailback in place of Blake Cooper, who suffered a season ending ankle injury a week earlier in a loss to Amanda Elzy.
Quarterback An'Darius Coffey ran nine times for 158 yards and completed eight of 13 passes for 131 yards.
Ruleville's only touchdown came on a 25-yard screen pass by Joseph Perez after a long kickoff return gave the Tigers a short field. “It took them a while to score but they ended up scoring,” Tompkins said.
“We played one of our better games defensively. We moved some kids around. Some kids who normally played on offense we put on defense.”
Tompkins had praise for defensive back Dadarion Small, who had an interception. “We played primarily man all night. He covered his guy very well.”
Winona took a 7-0 first quarter lead on a five-yard run by Coffey. After Ruleville tied the game on Perez's TD pass, the Tigers went ahead to stay on a 34-yard pass from Coffey to Robert McMath.
An 89-yard run by Coffey made it 21-7 at the half and the Tigers added third quarter TDs on another five-yard run by Coffey and Turner's 75-yard run.
“We still have a long way to go to get where we want to be,” Tompkins said. “At this time of the year you have to play well on both sides of the ball.”
The 42-36 loss to Amanda Elzy cost Winona the region championship and resulted in a much tougher opening round opponent. Houston is 7-3, but finished third in 4-1A. If Winona had won the region, the opponent would have been Hatley, fourth in 4-1A with a 4-7 record. Houston is coming off a 56-7 win over Hatley.
“They're very physical up front,” Tompkins said of Houston. “We're going to have to win some one-on-ones. They're going to force us to win one-on-ones when we are on offense and they're going to force us to win one-on-ones when we are on defense.”
Houston has a run-oriented offense that averages 261 yards a game on the ground. Eight Hilltoppers have run for more than100 yards, led by Bobby Townsend (number 15) with 94 carries for 678 yards.
Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. on what should be a very cool night.
Winona has qualified for the playoffs all six years that Tompkins has been the coach – three times in 3A and three times in 2A. The Tigers played in the 2A championship game two years ago and reached the third round in 3A last year.