COEBURN — Just because you’re winless hardly means you’re a loser.
Rye Cove drove home that point Friday night at Coeburn, riding 413 yards total offense en route to a 40-29 Cumberland District win over the Blue Knights.
“They’re a good bunch of kids and they’ve got a great work ethic,” said Rye Cove coach Tom Callaway, whose team improved to 1-5 overall, 1-1 in district play.
“We’re not out of this thing, but we’ve got to get better.”
War Eagles running back Steven Vikara, who rushed for 102 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown run, said his team’s formula for weathering adversity has been pretty straightforward.
“Keep trying. Keep at it. Don’t lose your head,” said Vikara, a man of few words but of many actions on both sides of the ball for the Warbirds.
His biggest plays of the night occurred in the fourth quarter after Coeburn quarterback Jon Dean’s 10-yard touchdown keeper pulled the Blue Knights to within 24-21 with 6:53 left in the ballgame.
The Blue Knights had stalled Rye Cove twice on downs during the scoreless third quarter. By third-and-6 in Rye Cove’s next possession, it looked as if they might do it again.
However, Rye Cove quarterback Jarrid Hensley pitched the football to halfback T.J. Barnette, who aired it out for a 32-yard completion to Vikara, who made an athletic catch.
Callaway said the play was derived from LSU’s playbook. Barnette, who “can throw it a mile,” was the ideal man for that play, the War Eagles coach said. Vikara, probably his headiest player, was a natural to run the route.
“We put it in the very first game, but it hasn’t worked until tonight. So that was a big accomplishment for me,” said Barnette, who also rushed for 58 yards, including scoring runs of 14 and 29 yards.
Blue Knights coach Greg Mullins said his team was aware of Vikara’s versatility headed in.
“We knew from watching film that he was a player. Defensively and offensively we knew that we had to try to contain him,” Mullins said.
“The halfback pass was a big play. We had a kid on him ... he just jumped up and made a nice catch. It wasn’t a surprise. We knew it was coming.”
A 22-yard rush by Vikara set up Teddy Parker’s 3-yard scoring crash to put the Eagles up 32-31 on Dakota Blevins’ conversion run.
Coeburn (3-4, 2-1) came out swinging on its next possession as Dean unloaded for a 50-yard completion to Travis Evans. On the next play, he thought he’d dialed in on Hunter Bond for a scoring strike, but Vikara came up with the interception for the touchback.
Blevins reeled off a 25-yard gain to get the chains moving, ultimately breaking free altogether for a 39-yard scoring run with 3:04 remaining in the game. Vikara added a conversion run.
Dean found Bond for a 36-yard touchdown pass with 2:36 remaining in the game, but time was too scarce. The pivotal possessions had already passed.
Parker, who rushed for 64 yards, initiated scoring for the Eagles with a 6-yard run in the first quarter.
Running back Shane Bright paced the Blue Knights with 123 yards rushing on 26 carries, scoring on runs of 6 and 10 yards.
Dean passed for 152 yards on the night for Coeburn, but was picked off four times. In addition to Vikara’s show-stopper, Rye Cove got interceptions from tackle Brad Barnette, Hensley and Blevins.
“It was a wild ballgame. Turnovers killed us in the end. We don’t mind throwing the football, but turnovers usually come with that,” said Mullins, whose squad by no means out of the district championship hunt.
Neither is Rye Cove.
“We have pride and we’re playing as a team now,” T.J. Barnette said. “That’s it.”