’Kees’ rally for semifinals comes up short
By Gabriel Garcia | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
GREENBACK — The Greenback Cherokees weren’t going to go down without a fight to a team that had been their physical superiors all night.
But when the official threw the flag for illegal touching on the ’Kees’ onside kick attempt after closing their deficit against second-seeded Coalfield to 34-31, Greenback’s aspirations for its first state title in 25 years came to an end in the Class 1A quarterfinals Friday night at Cooper Field by that score.
“They’re a really good football team. They’ve got the best line we’ve seen all year,” said Greenback coach Justin Ridge.
“I’d really like to see who touched the ball on the onside kick, because that was a huge, huge call.”
The Yellow Jackets (11-1), behind their power-running backfield duo of sophomore tailback Addison Bible and junior quarterback Ryan Hill, controlled the score, the pace and the time of possession against the top-seeded Cherokees. Coalfield ran up 378 yards with its ground attack and held the ball for nearly 32 minutes to Greenback’s 13:39.
“What we planned to do was run the football, be physical and control the clock and try to keep them (Greenback) off the football field,” said Coalfield coach Keith Henry.
Yet, Greenback (10-2) closed to within three points on a 10-yard fade behind two defenders from Eric Anderson to Hunter Cope, followed by the two-point conversion between the same two players with 1:30 left. The Cherokees appeared to recover the ensuing onside kick for a chance to rally to the TSSAA semifinals, but one player on the coverage team came close enough to touching the ball for an official to make the game-ending call.
“For all these seniors, it was our last game,” Anderson said. “Everything we could do to keep playing, just keep going at it.”
Greenback looked like they were going to get run off the field after Bible — who finished with 33 carries for 212 yards rushing — gashed their defense for his third touchdown of the game from 21 yards out late in the third quarter. Coalfield then recovered the ensuing squib kick that bounced off two Greenback players and drove down to the ’Kees’ 13, up 28-17, as the third quarter ended.
But Anderson, the Greenback quarterback playing defensive back, had an eye on defense as the fourth quarter started, scooping up an incomplete lateral pass from Hill — a fumble — and returned it 80 yards to make it a game again, closing the ’Kees to 28-23.
But as quickly as momentum went for the Cherokees in that play, the Yellow Jackets took it right back as Hill — who carried 17 times for 161 yards — sprinted for 49 yards on a perfectly executed quarterback choice play to open their next drive. Hill capped that drive off with only his second completion of the game through the air, a fourth-and-goal pass to Heath Tinker with 6:26 left to extend Coalfield’s lead to 34-23.
The Yellow Jackets dictated from the opening drive — a 10-play, 75-yard death march that took up more than half the first quarter and ended with an early 6-0 lead.
With the ’Kees down 21-7 in the second quarter, Richard Seymour — who was held to 12 carries for 65 yards rushing in his final game — got Greenback going on special teams after Bible’s second score, returning the kickoff to the Coalfield 37. Five plays later, Seymour scored a critical touchdown on a 3-yard sweep to close the Cherokees to 21-14.
“We came out a little bit weak, and we weren’t playing our game,” said Seymour, the senior standout at tailback.
Greenback had two chances to bite into its deficit before halftime — one after forcing and recovering a Bible fumble and another after forcing a punt with Coalfield deep in their territory, but was unable to score either time.