Tatum Completes Incredible Turnaround Season As It Enters Playoffs at 7-3
On Aug. 30, just a few days following a 24-14 win over Arp that was Tatum's first since 2014, first-year head coach Craig Barker said the victory was "affirmation that what we've been doing is working."
Fast forward a little more than two months later, and things are still working in Tatum.
Last week the Eagles put the finishing touches on a 7-3 season with a 40-6 win over Huntington to give them a No. 1 seed in the Class 4A Division II playoffs. Tatum faces Gladewater (7-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Kilgore in bi-district.
"There's a renewed excitement about the game against after coming off what they went through last year," Barker said. "The kids have bought in. The coaching staff has bought in. We're excited and ready for this week."
Tatum has completed a turnaround season of pretty incredible proportions after the Eagles went through the first winless season since 1962. Tatum won six of its last eight, with losses coming to state-ranked Henderson and District 8-4A Division II champ Jasper.
Barker said his team was all-in from the beginning to get Tatum back to being, well, Tatum.
"I saw all the work they put in during the summer and the dedication they had as far as the kids being there in the offseason always ready to work," Barker said. "And we have a good group of seniors who have great leadership skills. I expected good things to happen coming in and the kids went out and produced."
They're finding success through, as is the norm in Tatum, a stout running game.
Running back Cedric White and LeMarcus Harmon are the driving forces of Tatum's offense. The duo combined for more than 2,200 yards on the ground during the regular season, with White accounting for 1,345 yards and 16 touchdowns on 152 carries and Harmon with 911 yards and 14 touchdowns on 148 carries.
The Eagles will be on the opposite sideline as a team that boasts an equally impressive running game and the same mindset: control the clock, control the ball and good things will happen.
"This is definitely one of those games that will be won in the trenches. It's going to be a huge challenge for us. They're a very physical football team," Barker said. "We're going to have to play real well on both sides of the ball on the lines to be successful."
Gladewater boasts three players with at least 700 yards rushing this season, with running backs Isaiah Davis (1,055 yards, 15 TDs) and Darnell McKnight (754 yards, four TDs) headlining the group. Quarterback Cameron Callaway is also dangerous on the ground.
The key to winning the game for Tatum? Barker said his team just needs to stick to the status quo.
"It's the same stuff we've been talking about all year -- dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides, take care of the football and handle adversity well," Barker said. "They're a good football team and they're going to make some big plays. We just have to be able to respond to it. If we do those things we have a good chance to come out on top."