ON THE GO: Taylor wide receiver Andrew Aaron attempts to gain yards after a catch against Speedway in the Class 2A Sectional 30 championship Friday night. Aaron had two receptions for 20 yards and he also busted loose off a fake punt for a 46-yard gain in a losing cause.

The end of the 2006 season hurt the Taylor football team more than the ending of the 2005 season did. That’s progress.

Taylor bowed out of the state tournament Friday with a 33-7 loss to Speedway in the championship game of Class 2A Sectional 30 played at Taylor Stadium. The Titans ended the year 5-7 while Speedway marched off with its fourth straight sectional title and a 9-3 record.

“I know our kids are upset, and I’m upset, but here’s the deal — where we were last year to where we are now, I wouldn’t trade it,” said second-year Taylor coach Josh Ousley. His team was just 1-9 last season. “This is going to hurt, and it should hurt. This hurts a lot more than 1-9. You have a chance to win a sectional championship on your own field, and you come out and it doesn’t go your way all night. That’s frustrating for our kids, but it’s a great experience because it doesn’t happen very often.”

Frustration was the theme of the night for the Titans. They moved backwards 10 times due to penalties (not counting penalties which were declined by Speedway) and committed five turnovers.

“We didn’t play well enough to win. We made a lot of mistakes,” Ousley said, noting a pair of offsides penalties in a row as Speedway lined up to kick a field goal in the second quarter. The penalties gave the Sparkplugs enough ground for a first down, then Speedway converted a touchdown to give the visitors a 14-0 lead. “Those are frustrating mistakes and I know the kids were getting frustrated because we haven’t made those mistakes for six, eight, 10 weeks and here we are struggling with those mistakes.”

Taylor penalties contributed to Speedway’s next score as well, allowing the visitors a first down on a fourth-and-two situation. Speedway eventually kicked a field goal on that possession. Speedway took a 24-0 lead into halftime after Sparkplug quarterback Adam Walton scrambled, then found Kyle Linville for a 39-yard TD strike with just 21 seconds left before halftime.

Speedway coach Denny Pelley said that late score before the break was vital.

“That last play right before the half kind of took the wind out of their sails a little bit,” he said. “That was huge.”

Despite an avalanche of mistakes, the Titans had life throughout the game and gave themselves chances to reel Speedway in, they just didn’t capitalize on those chances.

The Sparkplugs pushed the lead to 27-0 with Walton’s second field goal early in the third quarter before the Titans threatened to take the momentum. Taylor QB Kyle Maple hit Cory Doucette with a 13-yard TD pass for Taylor’s touchdown with 5:45 left in the third.

The Sparkplugs took the next possession down to the Taylor one-yard-line, but fumbled. Michael Williams picked up the pigskin for Taylor and returned it to the Speedway 47. But with Taylor feeling bolder and threatening at the Speedway 30, Linville intercepted a Maple pass just ahead of his own goal line.

On the next play, Speedway struck on a pass to Linville, who raced down the sideline for a 98-yard TD. Neither team would score again.

Speedway did damage with a balanced attack and some big plays. Freshman running back Calvin Harris scored the opening TD and totaled 92 yards on 18 carries. Walton connected on eight passes for 258 yards. Linville had five receptions for 215 yards and two TDs.

“I was really shocked that they were able to throw the ball as well as they did against us,” Ousley said. “People know that we’re going to line up and we’re going to try to take the run away from you, and for the most part we did a pretty good job of stopping the run. I think we did a very poor job of tackling. That may be my fault. We weren’t as physical this week [in practice].”

Pelley pointed to big plays as a difference in the game, and thought that having a few players with sectional titles to their credit gave the Sparkplugs confidence.

“I think it really helps having been in three or four sectional [finals] in a row,” he said. “I think Taylor’s players played hard. They’ve got some good players up front. They’ve got some good linemen who made some big plays in this game. I think our kids, they just knew they were going to play well.”

Taylor was left to rue a big play that didn’t go its way. With Speedway leading 7-0 in the first quarter, Taylor unleashed a reverse that saw Zsan Black speed into the end zone from 38 yards out. But the play was called back due to an illegal block at the point where Black turned the corner.

“When they called the reverse back, it was a back-breaker,” Ousley said, uncertain if the penalty call was appropriate. “That was a huge play of the game. It didn’t work out for us.”

Junior fullback/defensive lineman Williams earned the highest praise on the Taylor side. He rushed 16 times for 72 yards, most of it in the second half as the Titans finally generated a consistent running attack.

“We did have some bright spots,” Ousley said. “Michael Williams played well. [Early in the game] we had some problems in the backfield with penetration and not getting handoffs and decided, here it comes [Williams and power running], deal with it. He’s a great back for us and he’s exciting to watch, so we have things to build on so that’s exciting.”

The Titans hope to build after a breakthrough season. No Taylor team had won as many as five games since the 1998 season.

“What I told [the seniors] on the field was we thank them, because they laid the groundwork for our program over the next few years and they should be proud of what they accomplished this year.” Ousley said.

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