Down 21-7, Kennesaw Mountain (1-5, 0-5 in Region 4AAAAAA) was driving down the field to try and close the game to within one possession.
After nine plays, the Mustangs had taken the ball from inside their own 13 to the Marietta 19. However, on the 10th play, the Blue Devils forced Mustang quarterback Nigel Hayes to pitch the ball out wide.
Hayes missed his target, Marietta linebacker Lawton Ward tackled the intended target, leaving an opportunity for fellow linebacker Tyrell Tomlin to make a play. Tomlin picked up the ball at the Marietta 31 and ran it back for a touchdown to put the Blue Devils ahead 27-7.
“I saw the quarterback run out,” Tomlin said. “He was getting ready to pitch it, so I hit the ball. Then, my teammate, Lawton Ward tackled the running back. So, I just scooped up the ball and scored.
“It was very important to get momentum for our team, so we could just them out (of) the game real quick because (Kennesaw Mountain) was starting to get momentum.”
For Tomlin and the Marietta defense, the fumble return for a touchdown was a rare opportunity to share in the limelight. For Tomlin, it was a chance for the three-year starting junior to show what he contributes to the team.
“Ty played for us as a freshman,” Marietta coach Scott Burton said. “Even though he is just a junior, he has a lot of football under his belt. He’s a very good player for us, and he obviously makes plays for us when we need to on offense. We’re certainly glad to have him.”
On the ensuing possession, Marietta (4-2, 3-1) forced another pitch off an option play. This time, the Mustangs ball-carrier fumbled and Marietta defensive back Peter Savic fell on the bounding ball in Kennesaw Mountain’s end zone to put Marietta ahead 34-7.
“It’s huge,” Kennesaw Mountain coach Andy Scott said of the turnovers. “(Alabama coaching legend) Bear Bryant used to say all of the time that there are one, two or three plays in a football game that ultimately decide it. The turnover when we were going to score was one of them. Those are momentum turners in a football game — no question about it.”
Still, Marietta was able to score points without a great deal of resistance. LSU commitment Anthony Jennings finished 8-for-10 passing for 169 yards and three touchdowns, while he rushed for 59 yards and a score on 12 carries. Jennings’ top target, Wake Forest-bound Tyree Harris, was the benefactor of two scores, both coming in the second quarter including a 45-yard touchdown pass off a screen play with 30 seconds left in the first half.
Although Kennesaw Mountain’s defense wasn’t up to snuff and its two turnovers left the Mustangs crippled in its chances for a marquee win, it was clear that there were signs of change in the program. Kennesaw Mountain outgained Marietta 368-365, with 261 of its yards coming on the ground via a classic wishbone option attack.
In the stands, there were few seats to be found on the Mustangs’ homecoming, even though the program has just one win through its last 16 contests.
“That’s one thing that is such a blessing for us as a football team,” Scott said. “For us, we have a tremendous student section. Our student section is what call the ‘K-side Crazies.’ They really help us and so do all of our fans. It’s a tremendous honor to come out in front of homecoming. For them to stay and cheer on our kids like they did, I can’t say enough to thank them for what they do for us.”