Senior Tee Higgins scored three touchdowns, including two on punt returns, as the Oak Ridge Wildcats jumped out to a quick 35-0 lead over Sevier County at home on Friday.
After five touchdowns in the first quarter, though, Oak Ridge only scored once more the rest of the game. Still, the scoring outburst in the first quarter was enough to give the Wildcats (6-0, 3-0 Region 3-5A) a 42-10 win.
Oak Ridge Coach Joe Gaddis said the Wildcats started well but didn’t play well in the last three quarters.
“We weren’t good after the first quarter,” Gaddis said. “We got sloppy. We got complacent.”
When you’re ahead of a team like that, Gaddis said, you’ve got to finish them.
“Don’t let them hang around,” he said.
Oak Ridge had three turnovers on fumbles in the second quarter, and one led to Sevier County’s first score, a 33-yard field goal by Anthony Velasquez.
Oak Ridge scored on its first three possessions, including on its first offensive play of the game. Junior quarterback Johnny Stewart connected on a 25-yard pass to senior Jaret Miner, who plays cornerback. Miner was an extra receiver and was wide open in the right side of the end zone. It was his first touchdown catch of the year.
“It was a great moment,” said Miner, who ran a go route and gave credit to Stewart for throwing a great pass.
That reception was set up by an Oak Ridge block on a Sevier County punt at the end of the Smoky Bears’ opening four-play drive.
Higgins scored the second touchdown for the Wildcats on a 48-yard, seven-play drive that ended with a four-yard pass to Higgins. He came out of the right backfield and lunged forward into the end zone with a Sevier County defender hanging on to him.
The Wildcats’ third touchdown drive, which covered 34 yards in three plays, was set up by another bad punt by Sevier County. On third down from the Sevier County 29, sophomore Jordan Graham ran around the right edge through several Sevier County defenders, weaved back inside a few feet, and then raced into the end zone.
Higgins then scored on back-to-back punt returns. The first was a 53-yard return.
On the second return, a 66-yard run, Higgins fumbled the ball near midfield but then recovered the bouncing football and ran into the end zone virtually untouched, giving Oak Ridge a 35-0 lead with 27.6 seconds left in the first quarter.
It looked a bit like a basketball play, with the football bouncing back up into the air and Higgins catching it like a loose ball. Higgins also plays basketball.
“Oh, man, I fumbled,” Higgins said he thought at the time. “Then, it bounced back up, and I caught it.”
He said he did a Usain Bolt-like track finish at the end.
“He’s a great weapon on special teams,” Gaddis said of Higgins, a Clemson commitment.
Senior Eli Woods added a touchdown for Oak Ridge on a 29-yard pass from Stewart in the third quarter. He was attacking the outside and backside of the defense, and he ran down to near the end zone, turned around and caught the ball. The cornerback “bit” on Higgins, leaving Woods open, Woods said. He gave credit to Stewart for finding him open.
“It felt amazing,” Woods said of his first touchdown catch.
Sevier County (1-5, 1-1 Region 1-5A), which used two quarterbacks, didn’t score its first touchdown until 2:07 in the fourth quarter, when sophomore Noah Webb threw a 39-yard pass to senior Charlie Brown.
Sevier County finished as state runner-up last year in Class 5A, losing to Independence 49-14 in the state championship game in Cookeville in December. But the Smoky Bears lost several talented seniors after last season, including quarterback and Mr. Football semifinalist Deuce Wallace, running back Dorian Banks, wide receiver Devante Matthews, and linebacker J.D. Griffin.
The Wildcats play Karns (0-5, 0-2 Region 3-5A) at home at 7:30 p.m. Friday, September 30. It’s the last home game of the regular season.
Gaddis said the team will practice hard before that game because of how they played in the last three quarters of the Sevier County game.
Oak Ridge finished with fewer total yards than Sevier County on Friday, 191 to 248. The Wildcats had 85 yards rushing and 106 passing. The Smoky Bears had 132 yards rushing and 116 passing.
Oak Ridge had six first downs, compared to 13 for Sevier County.
See a video of senior wide receiver Tee Higgins fumbling a punt return and then recovering it for a touchdown, with video courtesy Myles Hebrard:
— Myles Hebrard (@myleshebrard) September 24, 2016
See a video of sophomore running back Jordan Graham’s touchdown carry, with video courtesy Myles Hebrard:
Congratulations Eli Woods Mr. McDonald’s player of the game in the win over SCHS pic.twitter.com/zVPfWq7tQi
— Martin McDonald (@ORHSWildcatMGM) September 24, 2016
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