A second-half rally lifted the visiting Oak Ridge Wildcats over the Clinton Dragons 22-7 on Friday night in the first game on Clinton’s new synthetic-turf field.
The game, played before a full house, was not a pretty one, with 30 penalties called and less than 270 yards total offense combined between the two teams. Clinton punted six times for only a 17.7-yard average, with two punts under 10 yards. The resulting field-position switch caused by short Dragon punts, Oak Ridge TDs, and touchbacks by the Wildcats’ kicker was a key factor in the outcome. The Dragons recorded 18 penalties for 132 yards, while Oak Ridge was flagged 12 times for 127 yards.
Also key were a Dragon interception for a touchdown that was called back because of a penalty and a dropped interception that likely would have resulted in a score for the home team. Clinton also made only one first down in the second half after rolling up 10 in the first half.
In the 60th meeting between the more than 75-year-old rivals, the Wildcats extended their winning streak in the series to 12 games. In the Region 3-5A opener for both teams, Oak Ridge improved to 1-2 overall and 1-0 in the region, while Clinton fell to 2-1, 0-1.
The Dragons let an opponent score after building an early lead for the third straight week, although Clinton held on for blowout wins in its first two games.
“We had the same problem with William Blount. We had the same problem with the last game that we played [Austin-East],” said Dragon head coach Darell Keith. “You can’t do that with a good football team. Just because they’re 0-2 doesn’t mean that they’re not a good football team. We left some touchdowns out there on the field early. We should have had a pick-six. We should have scored down here on the 4-yard line.”
Clinton players may have been distracted by pregame festivities, Keith said.
“We’re dealing with kids that haven’t won since they’ve been playing football . . . They get sidetracked and not focused, and this is the result. I’m just here to play football,” he said.
Keith acknowledged that he has a very young team.
“You’ve got to understand that the majority of our football team is juniors, sophomores, and freshmen,” he said.
Missed opportunities, penalties, and other factors all combined for the loss, Keith said. Injuries such as a high-ankle sprain suffered by backup quarterback/starting defensive back Trace Thackerson against Austin-East also affected the Dragons.
“We had a chance to put them out in the first half and we just didn’t do it. There’s no excuses. We didn’t execute,” he said. “We have a lot of kids playing both ways. We have some key injuries. Thackerson is a good safety—there were a lot of interceptions that we could have had out there, but he isn’t 100 percent.”
Connor Moody rushed for the only Dragon TD in the second quarter as the hosts led 7-0 at halftime after an outstanding defensive performance.
The Dragons may have had a case of nerves on the opening possession of the game as they committed three false-start penalties, the last of which led to a timeout.
After a Clinton punt, Caleb Cook tackled Oak Ridge wide receiver Brandon Heyward on a running play for a 2-yard loss to set up second-and-12 from the Dragon 41. Wildcat quarterback Hayden Tarwater then threw an interception that Moody returned for a 70-yard touchdown, only to have it called back by a personal-foul penalty on the Dragon 31.
That moved Clinton back to its own 16-yard line, and the Dragons would then go on a 15-play drive that took a second shy of 7 minutes off the clock—but they would fail to score. Key plays on the drive were a 14-yard pass from Joshuah Keith to Rodayvien Truss for a first down, an 8-yard run by Moody for another first down, and a 3-yard sneak by Keith that set up first-and-goal at the Wildcat 10-yard line. However, after Dragon running back Erreese King was stopped for no gain and Truss ran for 6 yards, the drive stalled at the 4 after incompletions to Lucas Kendall and Truss in the end zone.
Oak Ridge would go three-and-out and punt as the second quarter dawned in the scoreless game.
Clinton took over at its own 47 and made its way to the end zone in six plays. On a trick play, Truss passed to Jeremiah Blauvelt for an 18-yard gain, and an unsportsmanlike-conduct foul on the Wildcats set up Clinton with first-and-10 on the Oak Ridge 14-yard line. Moody ran for 4 yards and again for 10 yards and a score, shrugging off a defender at the line of scrimmage and moving into the end zone. Ryan Bradley’s kick made it 7-0 Dragons with 9:01 to go in the half.
Oak Ridge had another three-and-out and a punt, with the Dragons’ Cole Todora tackling a receiver for a 2-yard loss and Jeremiah Lee stopping runner Kendall Jackson 3 yards behind the line for another loss.
Clinton would move from its own 17 to midfield in 10-play drive that took 6:01 off the clock but resulted in a punt. Keith completed passes of 18 yards to Blauvelt and, after a nice rollout, 19 yards to Truss. An Oak Ridge face-mask penalty gave Clinton 15 yards on third-and-18 after a sack, but an 8-yard loss on a screen pass brought on a 5-yard punt, and the Wildcats took over at their own 45-yard line.
The Dragons dropped an interception on the first play of the drive. A horse-collar personal foul on the Dragons gave Oak Ridge its initial first down on the drive, and an unsportsmanlike-conduct flag on the Clinton bench moved the ball another 15 yards. Jackson would score on a 21-yard run for the Wildcats, but the TD was nullified by a holding penalty. Two plays later, Brennan Pearson missed a 36-yard field goal on the final play of the half, leaving Clinton up 7-0.
The Wildcats managed only three first downs and 27 yards of total offense in the opening two quarters.
Oak Ridge would have another three-and-out to start the second half. Chase Glandon made one tackle for Clinton for a 1-yard loss, and Jackson West and Cook combined on a 5-yard sack for the Dragons. The two teams, however, would trade punts.
Oak Ridge took over at its own 44, overcame two false starts and a holding penalty, and scored in five plays. A penalty that would draw great consternation from Dragon fans and coaches—a 15-yard personal foul for targeting on a pass reception that turned a fourth-and-eight into a first-and-10—kept the series alive. Jai Hundley would finish off the drive with a 25-yard touchdown run. Efrain Rodriquez’s extra point tied the game at 7-7 with 5:55 left in the third period.
Keith completed a 16-yard pass to Braylon Taylor on the Dragons’ next drive, but Clinton would be forced to punt again. The Wildcats punted also, after Cook hurried Tarwater into a third-and-13 incompletion. Clinton would go three-and-out and make only a 6-yard punt that set up Oak Ridge on the Dragon 27.
The Wildcats would score in only three plays, capped by a Heyward 14-yard TD run on the first play of the fourth quarter. Rodriquez’s extra point gave the visitors a 14-7 lead with 11:53 remaining.
A touchback on the kickoff followed by Keith getting sacked by Brian Kelley for a 12-yard loss backed the Dragons up to their own 3-yard line. A 24-yard punt set up the Wildcats for their final TD.
Jackson ran four times for 32 yards to bring up second-and-goal at the 4, and one play later he would run in the touchdown from the 3. The extra point failed, but Oak Ridge led 20-7 with 8:00 left in the game.
After another touchback, Clinton would manage only 1 yard in five plays. Disaster struck on the punt, as the snap went through the end zone for a safety, putting Oak Ridge up 22-7 with 4:52 to go.
A Cook tackle for a 6-yard loss stymied the Wildcats’ next possession, but Clinton would turn the ball over on downs with 1:09 remaining. The Wildcats then took two kneel-downs to run out the clock on a win.
Keith finished the day 12-for-21 passing for 84 yards. Moody rushed six times for 30 yards and a score, and King rambled 10 times for 29 yards. Jackson led the Oak Ridge offense with 66 yards on 17 carries with one TD.
The Dragons follow up Oak Ridge with another home game against Cherokee, a non-region opponent.
“I guess we’ve just got to get ready for Cherokee and win our next region game,” head coach Keith said. “The [Oak Ridge] game is over, and hopefully we’ll see them in the playoffs. I’m going to use this as a training tool and move on.”
There was hardly a seat available on either side of the playing field in the Oak Ridge game.
“I’m very pleased with the turnout that we had and the amount of support that we received,” Keith said.
The Dragon head coach offered hope for the future.
“We’ll win more than we’ll lose. I guarantee that,” he said. “We’re still in our infancy stage. I suspect that we’ll win more games than we lose this year. Next year we’ll be better, and the year after that I hope we make a run for the state.”