Then the Cavaliers got washed away by the second-half tsunami.
Quarterback Heath Counts passed for three touchdowns, running back Chris Robinson rushed for 186 yards and the Greenwave upended Holston 41-21 at Ralph Cummins Stadium.
Clintwood (12-1) will face Franklin in next Saturday’s Division 1 state championship game at Salem City Stadium, marking the Greenwave’s second consecutive state finals appearance.
“This is what we’ve been working for ever since day one. It’s what we’ve been wanting all season. This is going to be the best experience of our lives,” said Counts, who had scoring throws to Trey Meade, Nick Robinson and J.T. Fleming.
The Clintwood defense, which held Holston to only 4 yards rushing, started dismantling the Cavaliers from the outset. But Holston’s extremely aggressive defensive unit was ready to pounce on any miscues.
Counts was charged with a rare fumble on a bad snap exchange, ending the Greenwave’s first series when Cade Parks pounced on the football. Chris Robinson took the blame on the next possession after getting stripped of the ball by Brandon Easter.
“I went up in the hole and I didn’t tuck. That was my fault. I was carrying it like a loaf of bread,” Robinson said.
The Cavaliers took heart from the turnovers.
“We’d seen several teams that hadn’t made it through the first quarter with (Clintwood). We wanted to weather the storm and see where we stood after that,” said Holston coach Jason Matlock, whose squad ended the season at 10-3.
The Greenwave offense took possession with 3:57 remaining in the first quarter and finally got the chains moving on the ground. Chris Robinson, Counts, Derek Robbins and Alec Osborne all contributed carries to the 13-play, 79-yard drive that was shortened by Counts’ 20-yard completion to Ryan Lyle just before the quarter ended.
Counts’ 6-yard TD throw to Meade on the quick out capped the drive with 10:17 remaining in the second quarter. Robbins’ PAT kick made it 7-0.
After a Lyle interception put Clintwood on Holston’s 35-yard line, a couple of double-digit runs by Osborne and Chris Robinson got the Green in range for Counts’ 6-yard scoring throw to Nick Robinson.
“We practiced all week and I’ve been waiting for my chance,” Nick Robinson, a tight end, said. “We’ve got several different weapons on offense. We try to mix the plays up when they try to shut down our run.
“Overall, we just try to put points on the board.”
Thanks to Richie Casey’s sack of Counts for a loss of 10 yards on the next series and Matt Barr’s recovery of another loose ball in the Clintwood backfield on one following, 13 points would be all the scoring the Greenwave would get for the first half.
“Coach (Rick) Mullins gave us a good yelling and that got us in tune. We came out wanting to send a message,” Nick Robinson said.
Clintwood scored on its next four possessions. Robbins’ 10- yard scoring scramble capped the seven-play drive that opened the third quarter. The 5-foot-10, 215-pound fullback — who finished with 92 yards rushing and was 5-for-5 on PAT kicks— had a 36-yard scramble that set up his 4-yard scoring crash with 4:18 remaining in the quarter.
Chris Robinson’s 41-yard run set up Counts’ 2-yard TD pass to Fleming for the 34-0 lead with 1:54 remaining in the third. Osborne, who rushed for 55 yards, added a 9-yard scoring run to make it 41-0 on Robbins’ PAT with 9:14 remaining.
Holston QB John Pratt’s 57-yard throw to Dillon DeArmond — who had seven catches for 76 yards — set up Eric Mefford’s 1-yard TD plunge for the Cavaliers’ first score with 7:23 left.
Holston scored two more touchdowns against defensive subs in the final five minutes, capitalizing on two turnovers by the Greenwave second offensive unit.
“I was disappointed in the way we started the game, offensively. We didn’t seem to be as focused as we normally are,” Mullins said. “Defensively, I thought we got after it and played hard. Defense carried us early.”