KINGSPORT — Dobyns-Bennett’s defense deserved accolades for its gutsy performance in Friday’s 14-7 loss to second-ranked Oak Ridge at J. Fred Johnson Stadium.
What it really needed was a breather.
That was particularly true in the second half, when D-B’s offense squandered much-needed possession time with three turnovers. This included a fumble deep in Indians territory that allowed the Wildcats to score the winning touchdown with 2:23 remaining in the game.
“We just didn’t perform at the end. We didn’t execute,” said Indians quarterback Bart Ring, who recovered a loose ball for a loss of 2 yards on the first D-B snap after Will Hudson’s punt pinned the Tribe to its own 12-yard line.
Ring shifted to wideout on the next play, with Jamie Crawford moving to quarterback. The ball went awry again on Crawford’s errant pitch to Robert Hogg. Defensive lineman James Normand pounced on it, giving the Wildcats first-and-goal at the 9.
“The first time (we fumbled), we didn’t get a guy blocked. The second time we misread the option,” said D-B coach Graham Clark. “We pitched off a guy we couldn’t pitch off of, then they’ve got us outnumbered, you know.”
Two snaps later, Jared Stephens, a tackle-shedding dynamo who rushed for 141 yards on 25 carries, swept around the left end 6 yards to score with a flying leap across the corner of the end zone. Hudson kicked the PAT for the final margin.
“Jared Stephens is a special running back,” said Oak Ridge coach Stanton Stevens. “I don’t know how many yards he rushed for tonight. But it doesn’t matter. He had a 6-yard run right there for a touchdown at the end. I don’t care if he got zero yards other than that 6.”
Stevens wasn’t entirely exaggerating.
“The difference tonight was that fumble down there,” he said. “They hang onto the football and we’re in overtime, right now.”
The Wildcats (3-0) took a 7-7 tie into intermission and probably felt just as lucky not to be trailing then.
The Indian defense swarmed Oak Ridge from the outset, shutting down the Wildcats’ opening possession and crushing the momentum of their second series when Lane Taylor, James Templeton and Alan Hinson gang-sacked Oak Ridge QB Tyler Clark for a loss of 8.
The Indian offense responded with its best drive of the night, going 73 yards on 13 snaps, capped by Taylor’s 1-yard scoring crash with 15.1 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Craig Mitcham’s kick put the Tribe up 7-0.
“We just put everything together (on that drive) and the line did a great job,” said D-B running back Justin Sylvester, who had 58 yards rushing on the night. That included a 30-yard scramble he contributed to the scoring drive.
The Wildcats got a slippery 22-yard slash-and-dash out of Stephens on its next series. Oak Ridge’s skids were further greased by the 15-yard penalty tacked on for a late hit. Clark hit wide receiver Dedrick Oliver for an 11-yard scoring strike with 7:33 remaining in the half. Hudson’s boot tied it up.
Oak Ridge threatened to mount another scoring drive on its last possession of the half, but the D-B defense was downright surly. Daniel Preston and Will Bateman teamed up for a sack of Clark for minus-7. Jason Michael and Hogg kept Stephens contained on the next play and Clark’s third-and-long pass attempt to Ralpheal Coffey was broken up by Lane Dukart.
The D-B defense shut out Oak Ridge in the third quarter, which saw Zach Fleming collect his second tackle for loss. Hudson’s 41-yard field goal attempt (short) was the closest the Wildcats came to threatening that frame.
The Indian defenders were aided in the fourth quarter by offsetting penalty flags that called back a 55-yard scoring run by Stephens. The Indians made good on the mulligan.
Conversely, D-B’s offense had two one-snap possessions in the third quarter. One ended on a Hogg fumble recovered by Demarcus Rogers. The other ended on Ring’s pass attempt to Crawford picked off by Stephens.
Ring opened the fourth quarter with a 35-yard completion to Dukart that raised the home fans’ hopes. But that turned out to be the offensive highlight of the second half.
“We’ve just played the No. 2, No. 5 and No. 6 teams in the state. We keep fighting and we keep fighting. In critical situations, inexperience and such shows up,” said Coach Clark, whose squad fell to 1-3 overall.
“This football team is going to be good before it’s over with. I keep saying that, but I keep believing it.”
Stevens doesn’t doubt it.
“This is D-B. Every game they’ve played has been close,” the Oak Ridge skipper said. “As soon as they find a little chemistry, they’re going to start making some plays. They’re just a shoestring away from making the plays they need to make to win the game.”