Oak Ridge senior Jacob Berven blocked a punt inside the McMinn County 10-yard line, giving the Wildcats a chance to tie the football game with about two minutes remaining.
But Oak Ridge was unable to convert that blocked punt into a score, and the Wildcats’ season ended in a 24-17 first-round playoff loss to the Cherokees on Friday. The Wildcats were unable to score when McMinn County stopped Oak Ridge quarterback Hayden Tarwater two yards short of the end zone on a fourth-and-goal play with 3.2 seconds left.
The season-ending defeat came a week after the Wildcats played their best game, a 48-21 win over region rival Campbell County.
Oak Ridge got credit for not giving up this season, even in the final minutes, despite their 3-8 losing record.
The Cherokees (8-3) opened a 17-0 halftime lead over the Wildcats at McMinn County on Friday with two rushing touchdowns and a 22-yard field goal.
But Oak Ridge outscored McMinn County 17-7 in the second half to stay in the game. The Wildcats scored once with a 36-yard field goal by junior Efrain Rodriguez and twice on short rushing touchdowns by senior Kendall Jackson. Still, it wasn’t enough.
The Cherokees had a slight offensive advantage, compiling 252 total yards compared to 206 for the Wildcats, according to preliminary statistics by Mark and Shawna Haste.
Oak Ridge gained most of its yards, 152 of them, through the air. Junior Elijah Rogers led receivers with more than half of those yards, 87 of them on nine catches, and five first downs. Junior quarterback Hayden Tarwater was 19-of-24 passing (79.2%) with 152 yards and one interception.
Sophomore De’Jauvis Dozier led Oak Ridge in rushing with 31 yards on eight carries.
Berven, a linebacker, led the Wildcats’ defense with nine tackles, five assists, two sacks, and the blocked punt, according to the preliminary statistics. Junior Brian Kelley added five tackles and four assists for Oak Ridge.
McMinn County was led in rushing by quarterback Jayden Miller with two touchdowns, including a 59-yard run, and 95 yards on 15 carries. Miller was 4-of-6 passing with 79 yards and no interceptions.
The Cherokees were led in receiving by Caden Hester with 53 yards on two receptions.
The Wildcats also lost to the Cherokees in their last meeting, a 28-24 defeat at McMinn County in a regular-season game in 2016.
The Cherokees will play at Powell (8-2) in a second-round game on Friday.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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