ATLANTA -- Star defensive end and North Carolina-recruit Tavares Kearney caught a back-breaking 16-yard touchdown pass in No. 1 Tucker's 48-14 thrashing of Northwest Whitfield Friday night at Adams Stadium.
The win put the undefeated Tigers (12-0) into the quarterfinals of the Class 4A state playoffs were they will meet No. 2 Statesboro (12-0), who knocked Tucker out of the playoffs last year and in 2000.
With 24 seconds left before the half, Kearney hauled in a pass from Tucker quarterback Dwayne Harris at the Northwest 5 and with a defender falling at his feet, scampered into the end zone to give the Tigers a 35-14 advantage heading into the half.
"It felt pretty good," the 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior, whose nickname is "TKO", said of the score. "It was the first one his year. It felt good to score for the team."
Kearney who has received several phone calls from UNC head coach John Bunting, is actually being mainly recruited as a linebacker or safety despite his abilities on the offensive side of the ball.
Coming into the second round game against Northwest, Kearney had registered 14 sacks and nine tackles for a loss. He is Tucker's second leading tackler with 67, 46 of which are solo.
"I am trying to break the school record of 19 sacks that Brandon Lane set last year," Kearney said.
The Tigers constantly pressured Northwest quarterback Caleb Callahan, a three-year starter, into three interceptions. Callahan had only thrown five picks through 11 games.
Callahan came into the Tucker game having attempted 64 passes since his last interception.
The Tigers' pass rush was equally as impressive considering that the defensive line gave up an average of 80 pounds per man against the Bruins humongous offensive line.
Most of the night, Kearney, who had three sacks and close to 10 tackles, was lined up against Northwest left tackle Colby Bryant, who is 6-foot-4, 290-pounds.
"He played a good game," Tucker coach Bill Ballard said. "In college, he will probably be an outside linebacker type. Either a "Will" linebacker or a strong safety. He plays hard."
He is also remarkably fast. Ballard said that Kearney runs a 4.38-4.39 in the 40 and also anchored the 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams last year. Georgia freshman running back Thomas Brown, also from Tucker, ran the second leg on those relay teams.
Tucker finished fifth in last year's Class 4A state track meet in the 4x100 relay, but didn't run the 4x400 relay because Brown's hamstring was sore, Kearney said.
Ballard said that Kearney had been offered a scholarship by every school in the SEC and ACC minus Miami, Florida State and Georgia, but Kearney only has a top 3 list of schools -- North Carolina, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. He was considering Maryland, where Tucker running back Brandyn Young has committed.
"Those are the only three I am looking at right now," he said. "I like all of them the same."
Kearney said he hasn't visited any campus yet and will probably start once the football season is over.
Kearney said that he has a 2.5 GPA and is still waiting on his SAT score.