JACKSBORO—Oak Ridge won the regional championship and secured home-field advantage to start the playoffs with a 28-0 win at Campbell County on Thursday.
The Thursday night shutout win followed two disappointing losses this month, one at McMinn County and the other at Webb. Both games were decided by four points or less.
After giving up 393 yards at Webb a week earlier, the Wildcats (8-2, 5-0 Region 3-5A) held the Cougars to 183 yards of total offense in the regular-season finale on Thursday.
The defense played great, Oak Ridge Coach Joe Gaddis said.
“Nobody has really shut them down like we did tonight, and no one has come close to shutting them out,” Gaddis said. “Tonight, we were ready to play.”
The Wildcats, the top seed in Region 3-5A, will play Walker Valley of Cleveland, the number four seed in Region 4-5A, in a first-round playoff game on Friday, November 4. That game starts at 7 p.m. on Blankenship Field.
The Cougars (8-2, 3-2) were playing for their first regional championship on Thursday, and they had scored at least 17 points in each of their previous nine games and averaged 40 points per game.
But they fumbled on their first play from scrimmage, and Oak Ridge scored four plays later.
The Cougars were unable to convert on several trips into the red zone, or on a few long pass plays to receivers who were in the end zone or had beaten Wildcat defenders.
Some of those were plays the Cougars had made all year, Campbell County Coach Justin Price said. That was the difference in the game, Price said: the Cougars’ inability to capitalize on big plays. Campbell County had opportunities to score, he said.
“In a game like this, the momentum is so big,” Price said. “We just weren’t able to do it.”
Still, he said he was proud of the Cougars’ defense for holding Oak Ridge to 14 points in the first half.
The win gave a boost to Oak Ridge, which last won the regional championship in 2014.
“This was nice,” Gaddis said.
He said the offensive line was able to create some holes, and the backs ran well. Oak Ridge rushed for 189 yards against Campbell County, compared to 104 against Webb a week earlier.
If the Wildcats win their first-round playoff game at home on Friday, they will also play the second round at home, Gaddis said. The third round could be at home, if Oak Ridge ends up playing Campbell County or Farragut.
Oak Ridge scored first Thursday less than three minutes into the game. Wildcats senior linebacker Caleb Jackson recovered the Campbell County fumble on the Cougars’ opening play and returned it 17 yards. The Wildcats scored four plays later on a five-yard pass thrown high from quarterback Johnny Stewart to senior Tee Higgins, who was playing with an injury and was double-teamed in the left corner of the end zone.
Neither team was able to score on its next two possessions. The Wildcats fumbled, and Campbell County recovered, but the Cougars were not able to convert.
See Higgins’ touchdown catch here, with video courtesy Myles Hebrard:
— Myles Hebrard (@myleshebrard) October 28, 2016
But on its next two-play possession, Oak Ridge sophomore running back Tre Jackson (99 yards, two touchdowns) ran for 56 yards after a pitch from Stewart. That set up a 19-yard touchdown run by sophomore Jordan Graham, who went over 1,000 yards for the season on Thursday.
“He obviously ran hard,” Gaddis said of Jackson. “He had a big run on an option pitch from Johnny Stewart that put us in a scoring position.”
That helps the offense and takes pressure off Graham, Gaddis said.
There was no additional scoring until midway through the fourth quarter. With 6:18 remaining, Oak Ridge capped a short drive that started at the Campbell County 35 with a 27-yard run by Tre Jackson. After a toss from Stewart, he ran up the center of the field, breaking two tackles as he weaved into the end zone to give the Wildcats a 21-0 lead.
Two plays later, Oak Ridge senior linebacker Kyndall Clark, who blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown last week, intercepted a low pass from Cougars quarterback Zach Rutherford, who was rolling right. That set up a three-play touchdown drive that included 11-yard and 19-yard runs by Stewart. Jackson swept into the left side of the end zone virtually untouched from two yards out to end the scoring at 28-0 with 4:54 left.
The Wildcats played better up front on both sides of the ball, but “we still have a lot of improving to do,” Gaddis said.
Campbell County, the number three seed in Region 3-5A, moves on to play at Ooltewah, the number two seed in Region 4-5A, in another first-round game on Friday.
In other playoff games, Farragut, the number two seed in Region 3-5A, will host McMinn County, the number three seed in Region 4-5A. And Lenoir City, the number four seed in Region 3-5A, will travel to Rhea County, the number one seed in Region 4-5A.
Oak Ridge also ended the regular season last year in a game against Campbell County. The Wildcats beat the Cougars 45-6 in that game, which was played on Blankenship Field.
See Tre Jackson’s first touchdown run here, with video courtesy Myles Hebrard:
— Myles Hebrard (@myleshebrard) October 28, 2016
See more photos from the game here.
See preliminary team statistics by Mark and Shawna Haste here.
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