By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Add another honor to one of the best seasons in Bartlett Panther Football history.
The Panthers of Lance Tucker finished the regular season 6-1 and atop the West 10 Media Power 10 Rankings. Bartlett was the best team for the coverage areas of The Bartlett Express, The Collierville Herald-Independent, The Covington Leader, The Germantown News/Shelby Sun Times and The Millington Star.
Then when the playoffs took place in November, the Panthers had a bye in the First Round and then took down rivals the Houston Mustangs and Collierville Dragons to advance to the Class 6A State Semifinals.
Taking on the Brentwood Bruins also earned the Panthers the Last Team Standing Award from West 10 Media.
The only defeat suffered by the Panthers during the unpredictable regular season was to the powerhouse Christ Presbyterian Academy. Bartlett then ran the table beating teams like Christian Brothers, Southaven, Arlington and St. Benedict.
Then it was time for the postseason. Once the program cleared a few COVID-19 concerns, the Panthers welcomed the Houston Mustangs.
In the Second Round, Bartlett didn’t submit to the double-digit deficit built by Houston and rallied to overcome 35-27 in overtime to advance to the Quarterfinals.
The Region 7-6A champions survived and earned a home game against the Dragons. Throughout that Friday night showdown at the Bartlett Football Stadium, Tucker was a fiery, passionate and focused leader guiding his Panthers to a historic moment. After 48 minutes of action, Bartlett was moments away from a 35-7 victory and trip to the State Semifinals. Finally Tucker’s face expressed joy and pride for his 2020 Panthers’ latest accomplishment.
The magical, historic run came to an end the following week to Brentwood 24-14. Despite that outcome and no trip to Cookeville, Tucker’s second season as leader of the Panthers has racked up team awards, individual honors and college scholarships for players like standout running back Robert Giaimo heading to Lindenwood.
Tucker’s words after the Brentwood game summarized the journey for his 2020 Panthers.
“We preach to them the hardest thing in my opinion to do is start something,” Tucker said. “And the second hardest thing is to finish something. In between is the journey. They didn’t quit. They started it and they didn’t quit. We had a shot at the end.”
The Bartlett offense was under the guidance of senior quarterback and Tucker’s son Walt. He used his weapons all season to rack up several points.
Meanwhile the Panther defense was led by players like Justin Jefferson, Trashawn Martin, Orlando Moore Jr., Thomas Jones, Lucas Luster, Bryan Whitehead Jr., Jaylan Fleming and more.
In a season full of challenges and unforeseen obstacles, Coach Tucker said he was glad to have each game with his 2020 squad.
“The boys, all they want to do is play, all of them,” he said. “Our administration, town, teachers, our coaches and players did everything they were supposed to do to play. We stayed six feet a part. We went on a span where we only practiced outside twice because of quarantine, weather or something. Those kids to make it this far, unbelievable.”
Tucker said the Class of 2021 validate every sacrifice they made throughout the season and postseason.
“That’s the most special group in my opinion,” he said. “I’ve only been here a couple of years, but I’ve been around people talking. That’s the most special group of seniors Bartlett has ever had. They’re tight knit and I love them dearly.
“It takes a lot of love and blessings,” he concluded. “Our blessings come from God and I am a firm believer in that. He had blessed me to be here and with a lot of young men. He’s blessed me with a bunch of young coaches. What a ride and I give all glory to Him. He gives it all to me and I hope and pray I give it all back to Him.”