Blake Hill and NSM host region co-leader Tanner on Friday.

North Sand Mountain head football coach Keith Kirby breathed a sigh of relief after a challenging 42-34 Week 3 win over county rival Section.

“Desperately needed,” Kirby said describing the win as the Bison avoided an 0-3 start. “Hopefully we can get on a roll, but Tanner might have something to say about that.”

NSM (1-2, 1-1) looks to get back in the thick of the Class 2A Region 7 race victory when it hosts Tanner in region play Friday night at 7 p.m. at Lloyd Dobbins Field in Higdon. It’s also Homecoming for NSM. 

It’s just the third all-time meeting between the teams. Tanner defeated NSM 27-17 in a Class 2A second-round playoff game on its way to winning the 2A state championship back in 2013. The Bison got a measure of revenge last season, defeating Tanner 55-14 during their region-title winning, state-quarterfinal campaign in 2020.

This season it is Tanner (2-2, 2-0) that enters the game with a share of the region lead, and Kirby said the Bison know this game looms large in the region standings.

“Obviously last week was a crucial game because you don’t want to start 0-2 (in the region),” Kirby said. “It was a very important game. But now this one is more important and they’re going to keep getting more important as we go.”

After starting 0-2 with lopsided losses to Class 5A Ardmore and 2A Lexington, Tanner has rallied in the fourth quarter the past two weeks to post region wins over Section 20-14 and Ider 17-14. The Rattlers overcame a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit last week on the road at Ider.

“They’re a good football team, very big, physical and fast,” Kirby said of Tanner. “They’re coming in on a winning streak. They play two different quarterbacks, possibly even three. They run it mostly but they’ve been throwing it more the last two weeks. They’re going to be a challenge for us.”

Skylar Townsend caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Ga’kobey Gill in Tanner’s win over Ider while Elinneaus Orr and Trey Cutcher each had a 1-yard touchdown run.

Kirby said NSM must shore up its defense, saying that otherwise solid play on the side of the ball has been hampered by giving up “way too many explosive plays. That’s been a glaring problem and we’ve got to get it fixed.”

After combining to score just seven points in its first two games, NSM’s Week 3 offensive output was a welcome sight to Kirby and Co., who ran for 295 yards on 45 carries and totaled 103 passing yards.. 

“We got our run game going. The (offensive) line did a good job,” Kirby said. “It was a step in the right direction offensively.”

Kirby said there were two things that stood out about his team in last week’s win that he hopes to see against Tanner and beyond.

“We found a way to win, that was the main thing,” he said. “(The first two games) everybody was kind of waiting around on somebody else to make something happen. (Against Section) we finally had some guys step up and make plays.”

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