Note: This story was last updated at 4:09 p.m.
SEVIERVILLE—Oak Ridge scored three touchdowns and a field goal on four turnovers by Sevier County in a 44-34 win in Sevierville on Thursday.
The Wildcats added three more touchdowns without the help of turnovers to maintain their game-long lead over the Smoky Bears in a televised game on Hardin-Robertson Field.
Sevier County, which fought to stay in the game until the end, had more total yards than Oak Ridge, 441 compared to 379. The Smoky Bears had almost twice as many first downs, 19 to 10. But the Wildcats (5-1, 2-1 Region 3-Class 5A) converted two interceptions and a fumble recovery into touchdowns, and a third interception led to a field goal.
“We won the turnover battle big time,” Oak Ridge Coach Joe Gaddis said. “Our defense played well all night.”
The Wildcats had been ranked number seven in Class 5A this week, and the Smoky Bears (4-2, 2-0 Region 1-Class 5A) had been ranked number three in the Associated Press prep football poll.
Gaddis said he told Oak Ridge players that Sevier County would move the ball and score. The Smoky Bears have a great quarterback, great receivers, and a good running back, Gaddis said.
“They don’t drop the ball,” he said.
But, he said, “I’ll always take a really good defense over a really good offense.”
Gaddis said the Wildcats’ offense made big plays, especially in the second half.
“We did enough offensively to win, but our defense did especially well,” he said.
“Our defense held them just enough to let the offense do its work,” said Oak Ridge junior linebacker Kyndall Clark, who had an interception, a tipped pass that resulted in an interception, and two big third-down sacks.
The first Sevier County turnover came early in the game on Thursday, when the Smoky Bears were driving downfield on their first possession. They made it to the Oak Ridge 45.
But Clark tipped a pass from Sevier County quarterback Deuce Wallace, and Oak Ridge junior Tee Higgins intercepted it. Higgins, a highly sought-after receiver who has committed to Tennessee, returned the interception 59 yards for a touchdown, running down the sideline and into the end zone less than four minutes into the game. It was Higgins’ first pick-six in high school.
Three possessions later, at the start of the second quarter, Devante Matthews of the Smoky Bears fumbled, and Oak Ridge recovered the ball at the Sevier County 27.
It only took a few minutes and a half-dozen plays for Oak Ridge to convert that second Sevier County turnover into a touchdown. Senior quarterback Logan Fadnek hit a wide-open Higgins in the end zone on a nine-yard pass to give the Wildcats a 13-0 lead with 9:29 remaining in the first half.
But the Smoky Bears answered 15 seconds later when Dorian Banks ran up the middle of the field from a second-and-10 at his own 20 and raced 80 yards to the end zone for Sevier County’s first touchdown.
The score was 13-7 with 9:14 left in the half.
Oak Ridge responded by marching downfield on its next drive, scoring at the end of an eight-play, 60-yard drive when senior running back T.J. Allison jumped over a pile of players on the goal line on a one-yard TD run, giving the Wildcats a 20-7 lead at 5:06 in the second quarter.
Wallace threw his second interception about 30 seconds later. This time, it was picked off by Wildcats senior safety Gavin Warrington.
Oak Ridge converted that third Sevier County turnover into a 25-yard field goal by senior Brandon Nickle with two minutes left in the half, giving the Wildcats a 23-7 lead at halftime.
Clark, who had two third-down sacks on Thursday, had one on Sevier County’s first possession of the second half, forcing the Smoky Bears to punt after only three plays.
The Wildcats scored again when Fadnek connected with junior Caleb Jackson on a 57-yard strike. Oak Ridge led 30-7 with 5:21 left in the third quarter.
But undeterred, Sevier County drove downfield in nine plays and less than four minutes to score on a nine-yard TD pass from Wallace to his brother Chase Wallace.
The Smoky Bears scored again early in the fourth quarter when they recovered a punt return fumbled by Oak Ridge sophomore Caleb Martin when he tried to pick up a rolling football at the Wildcats 3. J.D. Griffin of Sevier County ran it in on the first play after the turnover.
The Smoky Bears failed on their two-point conversion attempt, but they had narrowed the Oak Ridge lead to 30-20 with 10:14 remaining.
But that didn’t last long.
Freshman running back Jordan Graham, who had a breakout three-touchdown performance last week against Lenoir City, ran 74 yards for a TD just two plays and less than a minute later, opening up the Oak Ridge lead to 37-20.
Two plays after that, Clark intercepted Wallace at the Smoky Bears 29, the fourth Sevier County turnover.
“I saw the QB roll, and I went and got it,” said Clark, calling it probably the best game he’s had on defense. “I did what we practiced all week.”
After a 17-yard run by Graham, Allison ran 10 yards into the left corner of the end zone, giving the Wildcats their largest lead of the night, 44-20 with 7:34 left.
“It feels good to have this victory,” Allison said. “They’re a good team. They fought to the end.”
Still, the Smoky Bears quickly drove downfield after Allison’s TD, moving 80 yards in about a minute and scoring on a 25-yard pass from Deuce Wallace to Matthews in the right corner of the end zone.
Sevier County scored once more on their final possession, a pass-heavy, 64-yard drive that ended with a one-yard quarterback keeper with 1:34 on the clock.
The final score was 44-34 in favor of Oak Ridge.
The Wildcats have played three games in 11 days, starting with the lightning-delayed game against Anderson County on Monday, September 14, continuing with Lenoir City on Friday, September 18, and ending with the Sevier County game on Thursday. They’ve won all three.
Allison said the Oak Ridge defense was “all over the ball” on Thursday, and that gave momentum to the offense.
Higgins said the defense kept its composure.
“We played our butts off tonight,” Higgins said. “We just kept playing and playing, and our offense came back out and scored.”
He gave special credit to Graham, Allison, and Jackson for their efforts.
“That was a big help tonight,” Higgins said.
The Wildcats gained most of their yardage on the ground; they ran for 270 yards of their total 379. The Smoky Bears, meanwhile, picked up most of their yards through the air; they had 346 passing yards of 441 total.
Graham led Oak Ridge in rushing with 149 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown. Allison had 65 yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns. Jackson led receivers with 59 yards on two catches and a touchdown.
Senior quarterback Logan Fadnek had four completions on eight attempts for 90 yards and two touchdowns for Oak Ridge. Senior quarterback Jordan Dunbar had three completions on six attempts for 19 yards. Neither threw an interception.
Wallace completed 30 of 48 passes for 346 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions.
Banks led Sevier County with 115 yards on 12 carries.
Oak Ridge will play Karns (1-4, 0-2) at home on Friday, October 2.
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