‘Kees outlast tough Tigers, 38-20
By Gabe Garcia | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
GREENBACK — The Greenback Cherokees stared adversity in the face and never flinched.
After facing a 20-17 deficit and a Rockwood Wing-T attack that gave the ‘Kees defense the toughest test it had seen all year, Greenback netted a series of timely stops and scored 21 unanswered points to come away with a 38-20 win over its District 3-A rivals Friday night at Cooper Field.
“You had to show them what you were made of, and you did,” said coach Justin Ridge to his Cherokees, who came into the game ranked No. 4 in Class 1A. “You played like men.”
And did the Cherokees (7-1, 3-1 District 3-A) ever have to prove it after the Class 2A Tigers took their first third-quarter drive and marched a demoralizing 68 yards down entirely on the ground. The drive, featuring a determined Kyron Inman, who finished with 158 yards and two touchdowns rushing on the night, ended with Rockwood taking the lead and threatening Greenback with its second straight loss after its 13-6 setback at Grace Christian last week.
Richard Seymour got the Cherokees off to a good start on their crucial answering drive, returning the kickoff to the 50. Eric Anderson hit a timely 38-yard fly to his brother, Jordan Anderson, on third-and-9 to set the ‘Kees up at the Rockwood 11 yard line. On the next play, Eric Anderson ran the quarterback keeper the rest of the way to put the Cherokees up, 24-20, with 3:16 left in the third.
The Tigers (4-4, 1-2) responded as they had done all night, again chipping away at the Greenback defense. The Cherokees bailed Rockwood out with a fourth-down offside penalty at midfield, but three plays later the Tigers again faced fourth down at the ‘Kees 39 with about 10 minutes left in the game.
“A lot of it was just telling them to man up,” Ridge said of adjustments the Cherokees made on defense. “We had to make some X and O adjustments, too, but mostly it was personnel and getting people in the right spot.”
Then Rockwood lined up to punt, but Greenback sent nobody back to return, expecting the fake punt attempt — which happened, anyway. Hayden Freels was stuffed, and Greenback reclaimed possession.
“They (Rockwood) faked one on us at home two years ago in a tight game, so we had a feeling it was coming,” Ridge said. “That was a really big stop right there that really gave us some momentum.”
Seymour took over the game from there, gashing Rockwood’s tired defense en route to a night of 27 carries and 240 yards. On the drive after the Tigers’ failed fake punt, the senior running back had runs of 20, 18 and 15 runs, the last one for his third touchdown of the night.
“That’s one of the things where we rolled the dice and it didn’t pay off for us,” said Rockwood coach John Webb of the failed fake punt that led to the Tigers’ third straight loss to the Cherokees. “Our kids played hard all night long and played a very good team in Greenback tonight.
“That Seymour kid is an outstanding football, probably the best one we’ve seen so far.”
Trailing 31-20, Rockwood had to something it hadn’t done much of all night — pass. The Tigers’ drive stalled on three straight incompletions from quarterback Jared Breazeale, and the Cherokees took over at their 43.
Seymour burst off left tackle on the next drive spinning and cutting for 41 yards to set the ‘Kees up with another first-and-goal. His 5-yard run to cap that drive gave him his fourth score and Greenback a three-score lead.
“I give credit to my line,” Seymour said. “They pushed when we needed it the most, and they were aggressive. Our wide receivers executed their blocks when we needed it most.”
The Cherokees had a chance to put pressure on the Tigers earlier — right before halftime, in fact — after they forced a fumble that defensive end Landon Disney returned to the Rockwood 8. But Eric Anderson threw a pick in the end zone, and the opportunity never came to fruition, leaving the ‘Kees with a precarious 17-14 lead at the break.
Braxton Fox, back from an ACL injury and taking over the kicking duties from his twin sister, Masey, hit his first field goal of the season in the second quarter to put the ‘Kees up before halftime.
The ‘Kees likely clinched a first-round bye in the TSSAA playoffs with their win. They next host Tri-Cities Christian for homecoming Oct. 12 at Cooper Field. The Tigers return home to welcome district opponent Tellico Plains that same day.