GREENBACK — It was apparent early on the ball was bouncing Greenback’s way Friday night.
On the first play from scrimmage after a long kickoff return by Austin Burger, Duke Stinnett fumbled the handoff. The ball bounced right back to the senior tailback’s arms, and then Stinnett zoomed around the left side for a 35-yard touchdown run.
Greenback held Unaka to a three-and-out on the next possession, and then the Rangers' first punt reversed field and caromed backwards for a net result of 14 yards.
After hitting Holden Willis for a 26-yard strike, Braden Carnes ran a 5-yard quarterback draw to score again three plays later.
Most of the evening went the same way. Greenback spread around the wealth, with five Cherokees scoring touchdowns in an easy 51-6 first-round Class 1A playoff win over Unaka on Cooper Field.
They will play host to region foe Coalfield at 7 p.m. Friday.
Cherokee coach Greg Ryan was pleased with his team’s ability to stay focused against Unaka.
“When a game starts out like it did, sometimes your mindset as a player may be ‘Oh my gosh, is it going to be that easy?’” Ryan said. “I wasn’t super excited about execution the entire first half, but at this time this year when you can win 51-6 and you get to play next week, you’re excited.”
What the Greenback offense have lacked in execution, the defense more than made up for.
The Cherokees allowed Unaka 102 total yards with most of that coming in the second half while the mercy clock ran and Greenback played every member of its 42-man roster.
Unaka managed only one yard rushing in the first half thanks to a ferocious pass rush that sacked Ranger quarterback Landon Ramsey five times. The Cherokees also recorded five interceptions.
The highlight came after the Cherokees had extended the first-quarter lead to 23-0 on Lucas Holmes' 27-yard field goal and the first of Wyatt Rutgerson's three rushing touchdowns.
Two negative-yardage plays and a penalty pushed Unaka back to its own 10-yard line. Trace Brown picked off a short pass and was running clear to the end zone, but flipped the ball to Derrell Bailey Jr. trailing just behind.
Bailey Jr. has made many highlight plays on his way to earning a scholarship offer from Virginia Tech, but his 5-yard jaunt after handling the toss was his first score.
Brown, who has also played in the offensive backfield and scored during his career, told The Daily Times he was happy to give one up for his teammate.
“(Bailey) has been playing line here for four years and has never scored yet, so I figured I’d give him a touchdown.”
“(Brown) scored on a strip sack I made against Lenoir City,” Bailey said. “Almost all the linemen have scored except me so I told him before, “Trace, you've got to get me one. He said, ‘Alright, I got you.’”
The unconventional touchdown put the Cherokees up 31-0 at the end of the first quarter. A Unaka fumble on the ensuing kickoff led to Rutgerson’s second score — this one a 25-yard blast outside.
Rutgerson ended the night with 126 yards on seven carries. His final scoring run came after another short Unaka punt when he took a toss 39 yards for a one-play scoring drive.
Willis, whose biggest work was his defensive dogging of Unaka’s primary threat Devin Ramsey, garnered the final Greenback score.
Carnes first connected with Willis on a screen pass, and then Rutgerson added another 22 yards. From just inside the 10, Willis pulled in a Carnes strike, padding the score and the record-setting numbers for both players.
Carnes entered the game already holding Greenback's single-season passing yardage record and added 98 more yards. He heads into round two with 3,151 total yards.
If Greenback’s playoff run continues, Willis could set the Tennessee season record of 26 touchdown receptions. The senior has 24 scoring catches after the undressing of Unaka.
Unaka avoided the shutout with a long drive to open the second half. The Greenback reserves buckled down and allowed no further damage.