CLINTON—Senior Tee Higgins and sophomore Jordan Graham scored five of Oak Ridge’s eight touchdowns in a 56-21 rout at Clinton on Thursday.
A wide receiver, Higgins scored on Oak Ridge’s opening play less than one minute into the season-opening game.
He scored again late in the first half with a leaping goal-line catch of a high, arcing pass from junior quarterback Johnny Stewart, who was 5-for-5 passing for three touchdowns, no interceptions, and one rushing touchdown in his first varsity start.
Higgins—a Clemson commitment who also plays cornerback—also had two interceptions that led to Oak Ridge touchdowns. And he became the all-time leader in career receiving yards for Oak Ridge.
Graham, a speedy running back who is also on the high school track team, scored three times for the Wildcats.
The Dragons turned over the ball five times, and the Wildcats converted four of those turnovers into touchdowns. Two of the turnovers were Higgins’ interceptions of Clinton’s sophomore quarterback, Luke Harrison.
Another was an interception by Oak Ridge senior linebacker and defensive playmaker Kyndall Clark, who set up the Wildcats’ sixth touchdown from inside the Clinton 20 with about three minutes left in the first half.
Sophomore Caelan Thompson also scored on a Dragons turnover, returning the football 29 yards for a defensive touchdown late in the second quarter after it popped out of a Clinton player’s hands on a pass play.
Oak Ridge also had a special teams touchdown. Sophomore Kai’Reese Pendergrass returned a Clinton kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.
On its first offensive possession, Oak Ridge scored on a 51-yard pass play from Stewart to Higgins, who beat the Clinton defense and ran down the left sideline and into the end zone. After the extra point at 11:01, the Wildcats led 7-0, still in the first minute of play.
Four plays later, on the Dragons’ next drive, Higgins intercepted Harrison at about the Clinton 45.
With help from a Clinton penalty, the Wildcats drove 44 yards in five plays to score again, this time on a five-yard quarterback keeper by Stewart, who dove into the end zone in the middle of the field.
The score was 14-0 at 8:25 in the first quarter.
Higgins intercepted Harrison for the second time on Clinton’s next eight-play drive, leaping high to pick off a long pass at the Oak Ridge 21.
The Wildcats converted. They drove 79 yards in eight plays and scored on a fourth-down play when Stewart threw to Graham, who was wide open in the middle of the field and ran two yards into the end zone untouched, giving Oak Ridge a 21-0 lead at 2:29 in the first quarter.
Higgins scored again on a punt return at the end of Clinton’s next four-down possession, but it was called back because of a block in the back.
Then, Oak Ridge fumbled, and Clinton converted by driving 65 yards in seven plays to score its first touchdown on a nine-yard pass from Harrison to senior Demarea Whitt, a former Wildcat, in the first minute of the second quarter.
After a big run by Wildcats sophomore Tre Jackson, Graham scored again for Oak Ridge less than a minute later on a two-yard touchdown run. The Wildcats led 28-7 at 10:23 in the second quarter.
Graham scored again on Oak Ridge’s next possession on a 73-yard touchdown run, after he broke away from one tackle and avoided another at the right sideline.
The Wildcats were then up by four touchdowns, 35-7, with about five minutes left in the first half.
The game didn’t get easier for Clinton. On the Dragons’ next play, Harrison was picked off by Clark inside the Clinton 20.
The Wildcats converted this third interception into a touchdown as well. On third down from the Clinton 17, Stewart threw a high, arcing pass to Higgins, who was defended by Dragons senior J’Quan Thomas near the left pylon. Higgins leaped high above Thomas to make the catch and scored, falling backward into the end zone and over the goal line.
The Wildcats led 42-7 with about three minutes left in the half. But Oak Ridge continued to score. Twenty seconds after that second touchdown by Higgins, Thompson recovered a Dragons turnover on a pass play and ran into the end zone from 29 yards out to widen the Wildcats’ lead to 49-7 at 2:37 in the second quarter.
With Oak Ridge far ahead, the “mercy rule” was invoked in the second half. The clock ran continuously, and the Wildcats rotated sophomores and freshman into the football game.
Whitt scored again for Clinton about midway through the third quarter on a wide-open pass play in the center of the field, and he ran in untouched from four yards out.
On the very next play, though, the Wildcats scored again. Pendergrass returned the Clinton kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, after initially bobbling the ball near the Oak Ridge 2.
His score gave the Wildcats a 56-14 lead with 4:40 remaining the third quarter.
Harrison gave the Dragons their third and final touchdown on a five-yard quarterback keeper with 2:23 remaining in the game, making the final score 56-21.
The Wildcats were led in rushing by Graham with 155 yards on five carries and two touchdowns and Jackson with 71 yards on five carries, according to preliminary statistics compiled for Oak Ridge by Mark Haste.
Higgins had two catches for 68 yards and two touchdowns.
Stewart threw for 104 yards on his five passes.
Senior Billy Long led Clinton in rushing with 52 yards on 11 carries, according to game stats by WYSH Radio in Clinton. Harrison had 48 yards on nine carries and one rushing touchdown.
Whitt gained 53 yards on six receptions and had two touchdowns, and Thomas also picked up 53 yards on six catches.
Oak Ridge Coach Joe Gaddis said he was pleased with Stewart’s performance and execution.
He cited as highlights a great pass over the middle to junior Adarius Simpson, who had three plays in a row on Oak Ridge’s second touchdown drive, and the high, arcing pass to Higgins for the Wildcats’ sixth touchdown.
“Johnny did the things we asked him to do,” Gaddis said.
Coaches had asked Stewart to manage the game, protect the ball, and get it to playmakers, Gaddis said.
Stewart said he started nervous but got over it. He was trying to get the ball to Higgins, Stewart said.
“He’s a major threat, so we have to utilize him as much as we can,” he said.
The Wildcats also have good running backs and a good line, Stewart said. That new offensive line gave Stewart time and protection, Gaddis said.
Like Oak Ridge, Clinton is also adjusting to a new quarterback. Harrison, who had the two passing touchdowns in addition to his rushing touchdown, had 14 completions for 131 yards on 28 passing attempts, and four interceptions, according to Haste’s stats.
See preliminary game statistics by Mark Haste here.
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