Note: This story was last updated at 1:15 a.m.
The two football coaches agreed: Oak Ridge is peaking at the right time, late in the season and headed into the playoffs.
After a decisive 62-6 win over Webb last week, the Wildcats celebrated a 45-6 rout of Campbell County on Friday on Blankenship Field. That win ensured Oak Ridge (9-1, 4-1 Region 3-5A) will play at home next week against Soddy Daisy, a Region 4 team, in the first round of the playoffs. The game starts at 7 p.m. on Friday, November 6, on Blankenship Field.
The Wildcats, the No. 2 seed, shut out the Cougars (5-5, 3-2) at home in the first half on Friday, October 30. The score at halftime was 45-0. Campbell County, the No. 3 seed, scored after Oak Ridge put in reserves in the second half.
“There is no doubt this is the best team we’ve played,” Campbell County Coach Justin Price said. “They’ve improved tremendously as the season went on.”
Since losing to Farragut 31-14 on September 4, Oak Ridge has outscored its opponents 327-75 in seven games. That’s an average of about 47 points per game for the Wildcats.
“The last two games have surprised me a little,” Wildcats Coach Joe Gaddis said of the two blowout wins over Webb and Campbell County. “We’re playing well right now.”
The teams that win championships, Gaddis said, are the teams that “get hot” at the right time.
On Friday, the Wildcats ran for 224 yards in the first half alone. That compared to 33 yards on the ground for the Cougars in the first half.
“We jumped on them,” Gaddis said. “Our defense shut them down early.”
The defense got help from an opportunistic offense and great punt returns by junior Tee Higgins, a University of Tennessee commitment. Higgins had another big night, starting with his opening hit on defense to stop a Campbell County pass play and continuing through his 17-yard touchdown catch on offense and a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown on special teams.
“Tee’s the man,” Gaddis said.
Oak Ridge finished with 356 total yards, with 291 of those on the ground. Campbell County had 174 total yards, with 141 of those through the air.
“Obviously, we didn’t play our best, but Oak Ridge had a lot to do with that,” Price said.
Campbell County, which only has three seniors this year and lost one to an injury on Friday, picked up most of its passing yards after sophomore quarterback Zach Rutherford (11-of-15, 112 yards) came into the game in the second half. Rutherford was the starting quarterback this year, but he was sidelined for eight weeks with a torn ligament. Playing in his place, junior Josh Lay (8-of-18, 29 yards) has picked up almost 3,000 yards, Price said.
He said the Cougars could play Rhea County (7-3, 5-1 Region 4-5A) next week. Campbell County is in the playoffs for the third straight time, which is a first for the school.
Soddy Daisy, which is on the north side of Chattanooga, is 7-3 overall and 4-2 in Region 4-5A. Oak Ridge also played Soddy Daisy in the first round of the playoffs in 2014, eliminating the Trojans 53-28 after a close first half.
Oak Ridge scored quickly on Friday after forcing Campbell County to punt on its first possession. A three-play drive covered 28 yards, and junior Caleb Jackson scored on a one-yard run at 9:31 in the first quarter.
The Wildcats—who blocked four passes, stifled the Campbell County run, and had 126 punt return yards on Friday—forced the Cougars to punt again after four downs. Higgins returned a punt from Oak Ridge territory to the Campbell County 9, and the possession ended with a 23-yard field goal by senior Brandon Nickle. The score was 10-0 at 6:07.
It was a similar story on the two teams’ next possessions. Campbell County punted, and Oak Ridge scored, this time on a 17-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Jordan Dunbar (1-of-2, 17 yards) to Higgins at the right pylon. The score was 17-0 with 49 seconds left in the first quarter.
The two teams traded possessions and punts, and the Wildcats scored again at 7:40 in the second quarter when freshman running back Jordan Graham raced 35 yards through a throng of defenders up the right side of the field and into the end zone, giving Oak Ridge a 24-0 lead.
The Wildcats scored again about one minute later, on the 65-yard punt return by Higgins. The score was 31-0 with 6:36 remaining in the half.
Oak Ridge scored again on its next two possessions. Dunbar angled to the left corner of the end zone from 57 yards out for the first touchdown, and senior quarterback Logan Fadnek (2-of-3, 47 yards) hit senior Darel Middleton with a 19-yard pass for the second, giving Oak Ridge its 45-0 lead with 26.3 seconds left in the half.
The Cougars got their one touchdown halfway through the third quarter, converting an Oak Ridge fumble into a score after Wildcats reserves had been put in and the clock ran. Rutherford threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to junior Max Farris. But the Cougars were not able to convert the two-point attempt, making the final score 45-6.
Dunbar had 87 yards on three carries and one touchdown for the Wildcats. Senior running back T.J. Allison had 65 yards on eight carries, and Graham had 46 yards on six carries and one touchdown.
Higgins had two catches for 45 yards and one touchdown, and Middleton had one catch for 19 yards and a touchdown.
Senior defensive end Alex Alcorn had two blocked passes, and junior linebacker Kyndall Clark and senior Hunter Gray each had one.
Clinton is assured the fourth seed in Region 3-5A for the playoffs that begin next week, and Farragut has already clinched the regular season title in Region 3-5A.
See preliminary stats by Mark Haste here.
See photos by Julio Culiat here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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