Wildcats move on to 5A quarterfinals with 13-12 win at McMinn County
Oak Ridge High School’s 5A TSSAA playoff Round Two win over Region 4-5A champion McMinn County had a little bit of everything.
There was tenacious defense, a late twist giving hope to the home team, special-teams play, grit and guts, and just enough offense for an ORHS 13-12 win.
But it was a blocked field goal with time running out that secured the Oak Ridge win.
The first half featured 10 punts, but only one of those had any real effect of the game.
McMinn’s Kayden Melton blocked the kick after Oak Ridge’s second drive of the game drew a fourth and long at the 26-yard line.
The Cherokees secured the ball at the four-yard line. Three times the Oak Ridge defense held firm, but on the fourth attempt — facing a fourth-and-goal, Cherokee quarterback Caden Hester bootlegged right and found the pylon for a 6-0 score.
Wildcat Brian Kelly blocked the point after.
And that was the scoring for the first half.
“Unbelievable … You know our kids just fought … That was a terrible first half on offense,” ORHS Coach Scott Cummings said.
“But give McMinn County defense credit. They’ve been running the same scheme for 100 years and their kids know how to play it,” he said.
The Wildcats also had a rash of holding calls that set them back.
“We hit a couple of nice plays and then it’d get called back,” Cummings said.
Part of the problem could be Oak Ridge’s two big, physical receivers block too well.
“I don’t think people see that a lot,” Cummings said, although he said he had no complaints with the officiating.
“We’ll watch the film. That’s been our problem sometimes because Brandon Heyward and Elijah Rogers can really block. They’re very physical. And the assumption is receivers can’t block,” he said.
It became a game of special-teams play.
Against Oak Ridge was the blocked punt, and later, a roughing-the- kicker call that kept a McMinn drive alive, but did not lead to points after a McMinn County 45-yard field goal attempt fell about two feet short.
For Oak Ridge, it was the blocked extra point in the first quarter.
McMinn opened the second half with a quick drive that saw Cherokee Jayden Miller finally break free for a big run — 62 yards — setting up another Hester race for the pylon from eight yards out and six points.
“He (Miller) is a really, really good high school football player,” Cummings said of the McMinn County star. “And on defense, he comes up from his safety spot and makes a lot of plays.”
The two-point conversion/run was stopped by Vashawn Nalls and Jeremiah Holman.
Trailing 12-0 and with McMinn seemingly able to find a way to break Miller free, the tide seemed to be favoring the 4-5A champions.
But Oak Ridge had a trick up its sleeve.
Or rather a great group of coaches.
“Credit our assistant coaches for coming up with adjustments,” Cummings said. “We ran a guard trap and had some success, and we ran a wheel pass on a really big third-and-long. This was really a team coaching effort.”
Jai Hundley and De’Jauvis Dozier started hitting big gains.
Hundley notched runs of 10 and 18 yards and Garza completed a 32-yard pass to Kelly to put the ball at the goal line. It was a 10-play, 80-yard drive that saw the Wildcats get on the scoreboard when Dozier went in from one-yard out.
David Wilson’s point-after made it a 12-7 game with 5:22 showing in the third quarter.
Both teams settled into a kind of slugfest, neither really gaining any advantage over the other until a few minutes into the fourth quarter.
With Oak Ridge in the midst of a drive that started late in the third quarter, the ’Cats were facing a third-and-six at midfield when Garza connected with his intended receiver ...
And the ball bounced out of his hands and into McMinn’s Ethan Faulker’s hands, who returned it some 30 yards…
Where it was stripped by an Oak Ridger and returned to the Wildcat offense with a first down at the 26 thrown in.
Dozier started the second-life drive with a 24-yard run. He finished it with a 31-yard touchdown. After a two-point conversion failed, the Wildcats led 13-12 with 8:50 to play.
The ’Cats forced a punt and started at the 21-yard line with seven minutes left to play.
Oak Ridge started a 13-play drive that could have been a back breaker for McMinn. The Ridgers ate chunks of yards with Hundley and Dozier picking up tough yardage up the middle while keeping the chains moving and the clock running, and Garza converted two third-and-long passes — a 19-yarder to Dozier on the wheel route, and a huge 38-yarder to Elijah Rogers that put the ball at the 11.
Two runs from Hundley set the ball at the one-yard line for a first- and goal.
And then the unthinkable happened — the ’Cats lost the ball on a fumbled snap.
With 2:02 on the clock, McMinn had the ball at the one and a shot at the win.
McMinn moved down the field behind Miller and Hester until, with eight ticks left on the clock, McMinn kicker Spencer Sullins — who was short about two feet on a 45-yard attempt earlier in the game — was called in for a 39-yard game-winning attempt.
The official scorer -redited the block of the kick to Elijah Rogers.
“I don’t know who got in there,” Cummings said. “We defintely sold out, though.
“Special teams, overall, played just a huge part in this game.”