FARRAGUT—Down three touchdowns at halftime, the Oak Ridge Wildcats rallied in the second half against Farragut on Friday, keeping the football game close but falling to the Admirals 31-24.
It was, in part, a test of the high expectations that had been set for returning Coach Joe Gaddis, who led the Wildcats to their last state championship in 1991 and returned to Oak Ridge in March after 15 years away.
Fans disheartened by the score at the end of the first half at Bill Clabo Field in Farragut were encouraged by the turnaround in the second.
“I am proud of the fight that they showed,” Gaddis said after the game. “I learned a lot about the character of this team.”
The Admirals (1-1) scored first less than a minute into the game and then raced to a 24-3 halftime lead.
Oak Ridge (0-1) capitalized on an interception early in the second half to set up the Wildcats’ first touchdown, a score that rejuvenated players and fans. Oak Ridge went on to score two more and held Farragut to one touchdown in the second half.
Farragut Coach Eddie Courtney said the hard-fought game reminded him of his team’s loss to Dobyns-Bennett a week earlier, when the Admirals allowed the Indians to run up the score before fighting back to a one-point defeat.
Highlights in the first half for Farragut included a long touchdown pass play from quarterback Bryan Phillips to tight end Billy Williams to put the Admirals up 14-3 and a touchdown run of more than 60 yards by sophomore running back Tanner Thomas.
Soon after the interception by Oak Ridge’s Tommy Kaczocha early in the second half, junior running back Michael Rowe scored the first touchdown for the Wildcats with 9:56 to play in the third quarter. It cut Farragut’s lead to 24-10.
Farragut scored its last touchdown about five minutes later on an eight-yard keeper by Williams.
Oak Ridge scored twice more, once on a pass from senior Jaylin Henderson—the third and final quarterback of the night—to junior wide receiver Ted Mitchell from about 20 yards out and again on a five-yard run by Henderson with 5:04 left in the game.
Gaddis has said the Wildcats are young and inexperienced but will mature throughout the season. On Friday, he said the team had 15 starters who hadn’t started in a varsity game.
Henderson, who also plays basketball and followed senior Gered Young and sophomore Jordan Dunbar at quarterback on Friday, hadn’t played football in two years, Gaddis said.
But the coach seemed pleased with his team’s determination to fight back Friday.
“We grew up a lot tonight,” he said. “We have warriors. You find out who you are when you deal with adversity.”
The Wildcats play Clinton at home at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Gaddis said Henderson could start at quarterback in that game.