OXFORD, MS (WDAM) - Shortly after helping his high school bring home a brand-spanking-new trophy signifying a Class 2A state football championship, Taylorsville freshman quarterback Ty Keyes was asked how it felt to help deliver the school's first title in 15 years.
"It's been a great year, but the next year is going to be an even better one," Keyes said.
Taylorsville in general, and Keyes, in particular, will have a tough time topping this fall's frolic that ended Friday evening with the Tartars pulling away for a 41-26 victory over Winona High School in the Class 2A championship game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on the University of Mississippi campus.
The precocious Keyes was named Farm Bureau Player of the Game after throwing for 333 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions as the Tartars pulled away from a 14-13 halftime lead to win the first championship since 2002.
"Every time somebody brings him up, they want to talk about how young he is, but he's got 16 games under his belt," Taylorsville coach Chuck Robertson said. "What composure.
"But he's such a humble kid who just understands that the moment is not bigger than him. He's fun to be around and the kids rally around him. As long as he's at quarterback, we're never out of it."
The Tartars (15-1) closed out the season on a 10-game winning streak. It was the sixth football championship for Taylorsville and the first under Robertson, who took over the program in 2016.
"We had a great turnout (Friday)," Robertson said. "They shut the school down. It's been so special.
"My kids deserve this. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for my school, but these kids, they deserve it. They really bought into what I brought. They really trusted me and I worked their (rears) off. They earned this, no doubt."
The Tigers (11-4) saw a seven-game winning streak snapped in their quest for the school's first state football championship.
Taylorsville senior running back Tycarius Roberts ran for 146 yards and three touchdowns Friday, marking the fourth consecutive game he has broken the 100-yard mark in the playoffs.
"He's been the difference for us the last four weeks," Robertson said. "We've been playing better, defensively and all the way around, but he's really, really stepped up."
Friday's performance gave Roberts 1,070 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns on the season. Over the past four games, Roberts has rushed for 53.5 percent of that yardage (571 yards) and 57.1 percent of his scores (eight touchdowns).
Winona coach Joey Tompkins said that the Tartars' ability to throw the ball successfully early set up Roberts in the second half, when he rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns.
"I don't think they would have been able to run the ball like they did if it weren't for what they were able to do before, if that makes any sense," Tompkins said. "We didn't play our best game, no doubt, but I think the better team won. Or, at least, the better team (Friday)."
Keyes threw a 15-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to junior Letreal Jones to cap the Tartars' first drive of the game, then added a 78-yard scoring hook-up with junior Raven Arrington on Taylorsville's first offensive snap of the second half.
Keyes, who completed 18-of-25 passes, capped his scoring efforts with a 5-yard shovel pass to junior C.J. Williams early in the fourth quarter.
Roberts scored on runs of 1 yard, 9 yards and 18 yards. His 9-yard run on fourth-and-8 in the game's final minute sealed the Tartars' victory.
Winona's all-everything quarterback, senior Jatyler Moore, netted a hard-earned 73 yards rushing and ran for two touchdowns against a Tartars' defense that allowed just 211 yards total offense. Moore also completed 11-of-20 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown with an interception.
Senior running back D.J. Ringo netted 36 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries and also had two catches for a team-high 32 yards.
But the Tartars were too much, rolling up 512 yards total offense.
Taylorsville took the game's opening possession 62 yards in nine plays to grab a 7-0 lead.
Keyes came up clutch, hitting 3-of-3 passes for 72 yards and a touchdown. He converted on a fourth-and-7 from the Winona 15-yard line, rolling left, then hesitating and waiting for Jones to break free in the back of the end zone for the touchdown.
Winona immediately tied the score, driving 65 yards in 10 plays.
Taylorsville looked like it had come with a big stop, catching Moore for a 1-yard loss on 3rd-and-7 at its 19-yard line. But two Tartars were screened and had not seen Moore's knee hit the ground. Both were whistled for late hits, costing Taylorsville 10 yards and an automatic 1st-and-goal at the 10.
Ringo covered the distance on two carries, going 6 yards for the game-tying score with 2:56 left in the first quarter.
Taylorsville came right back with an eight-play, 67-yard drive that spanned the end of the first quarter/start of the second quarter and gave the Tartars a 14-7 lead.
Again, Keyes came up clutch, finding senior Malik Strickland with a 28-yard pass on fourth-and-8 at the Winona 29-yard line, to set up Roberts' 1-yard scoring run.
After driving into each other's territory before exchanging the ball on downs, Winona put together an 11-play, 76-yard drive that Moore capped with an 11-yard run with 23 seconds left to play in the first half.
But just as it appeared the Tigers would send the game into the break tied, senior Perry Keyes blocked the extra point to leave the Tartars clinging to a 14-13 halftime lead.
"The difference in the game was that we didn't care what down it was," Robertson said. "We were going to run our game plan. If it was third down, fourth down, it didn't really matter. We were just going to do what we do."
And do what they do even on, say, first down.
After forcing the Tigers to punt away the first possession of the second half, Keyes zipped a screen pass out to the left to Arrington. The junior got a pair of blocks on the edge, and he was gone 78 yards down the far sideline for a touchdown and a 21-13 lead.
Winona drove into Taylorsville territory, but lost the ball on downs at the Tartars' 35-yard line. Taylorsville then 65 went yards in seven plays, capped by Roberts' 9-yard run, for a 27-13 lead after three quarters.
"You hate to go back and look at one, specific thing, but that drive to start the second half, I don't know," Tompkins said. "I didn't think that they had really stopped us all night and I thought we were executing our offense really well, but they stopped us there, and honestly, I didn't know how many times we were going to be able to stop them.
"We had to have that, and we didn't get it, and I think they needed only one play to score."
Then, after Roberts' run, Strickland recovered an on-side kick to set up a 40-yard touchdown drive that Keyes capped with his pass to Williams for a 34-13 lead.
Moore sandwiched a 12-yard touchdown run and a 2-yard shovel pass to junior Jay Lofton around Roberts' 18-yard scoring pass to cap the scoring.
Strickland and Perry Keyes had identical numbers, four catches for 76 yards, while Jones caught four passes for 35 yards and a touchdown. Arrington had three catches for 88 yards and a touchdown.
"It feels good, this being my first time here" Jones said. "We just felt like if we did what the coaches told us to do, we couldn't lose."