Fife is carrying a much larger load now that senior running back Bam Henderson has been lost for the season with a knee injury he suffered back in Week 2.
The sophomore sensation rushed for 157 yards on 31 carries and scored three touchdowns, helping the Class 1A, No. 6 Tigers earn a hard-fought 26-14 victory over Region 7 rival and eighth-ranked Collinsville on Friday.
“Coach (Jonathan McWhorter) wanted me to run harder than I ever have, and playing behind Bam makes me want to play harder,” Fife said. “He helps me out and tells me what I need to do. I want to step up and play as hard as he did and help out our team.
“I want to give a shout out to my linemen. They helped me get past the line of scrimmage tonight.”
Collinsville coach Alan Beckett said Fife and the rest of the Tiger rushers “moved with such ease running the ball.”
“They were able to run the football on us like we haven’t seen in several years,” Beckett said. “I thought that was big, the way they moved the ball down the field.
“We were trying to take away their big-play receivers. DeAngelo (Hardy) is one of the top receivers in the state. We didn’t want him to have nine catches for 200 yards. We felt like we had to pick our poison a little bit.”
Cedar Bluff’s win ended a three-game losing streak to the Panthers, but more importantly, it kept the Tigers undefeated on the season and in the region at 6-0. Collinsville dropped to 5-1 (4-1 Region 7).
“We’re going to enjoy this one,” McWhorter said. “After three years of losing close games (to Collinsville), I’m real happy for our kids and our coaches to be able to come out on top in this one. This game between our two programs has been huge the last five or six years. We know when we strap it on against Collinsville, it’s going to be a dogfight every year. I’m real proud of our kids.”
Added Tiger senior receiver/defensive back Alex Hairston: “Everybody executed like they were supposed to and we got it done.”
Before Fife could get his motor running, Collinsville senior quarterback C.J. Jones helped the Panthers seize early momentum.
Jones, who completed 12 of 31 pass attempts for 213 yards and two touchdowns, gave the Panthers a 7-0 lead with his 47-yard touchdown connection with senior running back Daniel Bradford with 9:08 to go in the first quarter.
Fife responded with his 9-yard touchdown run at the 1:41 mark of the first quarter. Curtis Abernathy’s point after was no good, keeping Collinsville in front 7-6.
Cedar Bluff took its first lead of the game with 11:20 to go in the second quarter when Fife scored on an 18-yard touchdown rush. The Tigers went for 2, but senior quarterback Levi Mintz’s pass fell incomplete, keeping the score at 12-7.
Collinsville countered on its next possession. The Panthers capped a 12-play, 65-yard drive on Jones’s 5-yard touchdown toss to senior receiver Deshawn Moore. David Hernandez booted the extra point, putting Collinsville back in front 14-12 at the 7:04 mark of the second quarter.
Moore was the Panthers’ top pass catcher on Friday, hauling in six passes for 85 yards and a touchdown. Edgar Padilla caught five passes for 95 yards.
Cedar Bluff responded with Mintz’s 13-yard scoring connection with Hairston with 4:27 remaining before halftime. Mintz’s rush for the 2-point conversion gave the Tigers a 20-14 advantage.
Mintz finished the game completing 7 of 17 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown.
Padilla gave the Panthers excellent field position at the Cedar Bluff 17-yard line after a big return on the ensuing kickoff. However, the Panthers had to settle for a 31-yard field goal attempt by Hernandez, which missed the mark.
Cedar Bluff appeared as if it would add to its lead early in the third quarter, but Fife fumbled the ball, which was recovered by the Panthers’ Justin Little at Collinsville’s 39-yard line.
A promising Panther drive was halted when the Tiger defense stiffened, forcing Collinsville turn the ball over on downs at Cedar Bluff’s 16-yard line.
The Tigers cashed it in on a 7-play, 84-yard drive that resulted in Fife’s third score of the night – a 2-yard touchdown run.
Cedar Bluff attempted another 2-point conversion, but was denied again, keeping the score at 26-14 with 3:26 remaining in the third quarter.
Cedar Bluff’s defense made sure Collinsville would get no closer. The unit picked off Jones twice in the second half – one interception by Terrence Scales, and the other by Rickey Pendley.
“I want to say a special kudos to our defense,” McWhorter said. “They (Collinsville) were in scoring position I don’t know how many times tonight. They missed a field goal, and we held them on fourth down two or three times. You hold those guys with the athletes and players they have to 14 points, we can live with that.”
Beckett said the Tiger defense was “very physical.”
“It was a prize fight, and we don’t have a lot of guys standing,” he said. “We’re banged up. I thought, in part, that was a key to the game. They were able to establish the line of scrimmage. They took us away from being able to run the ball. We were able to throw it a little bit, but we missed on a couple of routes we thought could have been really big. The second half, when we tried to hit some of them, we were tired.”
Cedar Bluff hosts Donoho on Friday, while Collinsville clashes with Spring Garden.