Note: This story was last updated at 1:15 p.m. Sept. 19.
Wildcats freshman running back Jordan Graham scored three touchdowns, including one on the opening kickoff return and another in front of University of Tennessee Coach Butch Jones, during a 55-15 win over Lenoir City on Homecoming Night at Blankenship Field on Friday.
“It was a great experience,” Graham said. He gave credit to his teammates and their blocking for setting up his first three Wildcats touchdowns.
Graham, who ended with more than 100 yards rushing, started the scoring on a 91-yard kickoff return on the first play of the game. He initially fumbled the ball, but he recovered his own fumble and raced to the Panther end zone, first making defenders miss and then outrunning them.
Graham, a small, fast 14-year-old, scored again at 5:51 in the second quarter, sweeping around the right side of the offensive line after a toss from senior quarterback Jordan Dunbar, weaving through defenders in the center of the field, and running 59 yards to score inside the left pylon, making it 21-8.
Jones came to the game at halftime. Graham scored on the Wildcats’ first possession of the second half, after Lenoir City had been forced to punt. This was another long run, 60 yards on a first down from the Oak Ridge 40, after another toss from Dunbar. Graham again ran to the right side of the offensive line, but this time he sprinted straight ahead to the right pylon to score, giving the Wildcats a 41-8 lead.
“He can go,” Oak Ridge Coach Joe Gaddis said of Graham. “He’s fast. Not only is he fast, he has some vision.”
Graham, who is 5’6” and 149 pounds, can run a 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds, according to his Hudl profile.
Gaddis said he doesn’t recall another freshman with another performance like Graham’s on Friday.
“He made three long runs,” Gaddis said.
Graham’s father, Kwayu Graham, is the receivers coach for the Wildcats, and he is a former receiver, running back, and kick returner who has tied the record for a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown for the Wildcats.
“Today, I was very proud of him,” Kwayu Graham said of his son Jordan. “He made plays and helped out his team a bunch.”
Also scoring for the Wildcats on Friday were senior wide receiver Darel Middleton with his first TD of the year, junior linebacker Chase Kimbro with an interception returned 20 yards for a touchdown, senior running back T.J. Allison with an eight-yard run, and junior wide receiver Tee Higgins, who leads the Wildcats in scoring and is a UT commitment. Reserves were put in late in the game, and senior Jae’shwan Maddox scored the final touchdown for Oak Ridge on a one-yard touchdown run.
Higgins also scored while Jones was on the sidelines with Volunteers wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni.
The Wildcats dominated in total yards, with 372 compared to 183 for Lenoir City (1-3, 0-2). Oak Ridge had 197 yards on the ground and 175 through the air.
The Wildcats also had a good night on defense. Gaddis said the first defense pitched out a shutout. Lenoir City scored its first touchdown after senior cornerback Will Whitson intercepted a pass from Dunbar and ran it back 55 yards for a touchdown with 3:18 left in the first quarter.
The Panthers scored again late in the game, with less than three minutes to play, after Oak Ridge had put in its reserves.
Defensive highlights for the Wildcats included the interception returned for a touchdown by Kimbro and back-to-back blocked passes by senior defensive end Alex Alcorn, who also had a fumble recovery. Kimbro and Alcorn also had important offensive plays: Kimbro recovered an Allison fumble at the Panther 8 right before Allison scored, and Alcorn provided a crucial block on that touchdown.
In addition to Kimbro, junior linebacker Kyndall Clark also had an interception for Oak Ridge.
“Defensively, we did well,” Gaddis said.
Oak Ridge (4-1, 2-1 Region 3-5A) scored on its first two possessions. After the Wildcats took a 7-0 lead on Graham’s opening kickoff return, Middleton, who led all receivers on Friday, scored on a 42-yard pass from Dunbar at 8:35 in the first quarter.
But Lenoir City answered with Whitson’s interception return, and the score, after a two-point conversion by the Panthers, was 14-8, with Oak Ridge leading.
After Graham’s long 59-yard run midway through the second quarter, Oak Ridge had its own interception return, this one the touchdown by Kimbro at 4:27 in the second quarter.
Senior quarterback Logan Fadnek also played for the Wildcats on Friday, and he was in when Allison rolled into the end zone on the eight-yard run with 1:28 remaining in the first half.
The score was 35-8 at halftime, with Oak Ridge leading.
Graham’s third touchdown, the 60-yard run, came with Dunbar back at quarterback and 8:05 left in the third quarter. Oak Ridge was unable to convert the two-point attempt, and the Wildcats led by 41-8 a few minutes after halftime.
Higgins’ touchdown came about five minutes later on a 29-yard pass play from Fadnek as Higgins angled across the field from right to left.
The Wildcats added their final touchdown by Maddox after sophomore Johnny Stewart rotated in at quarterback. They led 55-8 with 7:14 remaining.
Lenoir City scored its last touchdown on a three-yard TD run by senior running back Logan D’Ooge with 2:48 left.
Middleton had 94 yards on four receptions and one touchdown for the Wildcats. Higgins had 40 yards on two receptions and one touchdown.
Graham had 116 yards on three carries and two rushing touchdowns, Allison had 39 yards on seven carries and one TD, and senior Gavin Warrington had 22 yards on three carries.
D’Ooge led Lenior City with 74 yards on 15 carries and one touchdown.
Like Oak Ridge, the Panthers also used three quarterbacks on Friday. Junior quarterback Austin Sharpe saw the most action, and he was 8-of-16 (50 percent) for 51 yards passing.
The Wildcats play Sevier County (4-1, 2-0 Region 1-5A) in Sevierville at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24. The game will be broadcast on MyVLT.
The Smoky Bears’ one defeat was a 49-41 loss to Dobyns-Bennett, a team that Oak Ridge beat the second week of the season in a down-to-the-wire game.
See preliminary stats from the Oak Ridge-Lenoir City game here, courtesy of Mark Haste.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
See more photos here.
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