BRISTOL, Tenn. — Whenever the Volunteer football team’s season ends — and it’s not over yet — “By a Yard” might be the perfect motto.
After denying Cherokee on the doorstep of the goal line to clinch a berth in the postseason, the Falcons did the same against Tennessee High in overtime Friday night to win 21-14 and preserve the first playoff victory in program history.
“It’s just a fitting end, the way the game ended,” Volunteer coach Scott Rider said. “Finally, after all the years of frustration and coming up short, finally to come up on the positive side.”
The Falcons (6-5) advance to face Five Rivers Conference champion Greeneville in the next round of the Class 4A playoffs.
“I always wanted to be part of the turnaround at Volunteer, the upswing in athletics,” said Falcons quarterback Keith Cradic. “I think it’s starting. I think we’re headed in that direction.”
Volunteer got the ball first in overtime, and punched it in on three straight carries by Chris Ward, with the scoring rush a 1-yard plunge.
The Vikings (8-3), the second seed out of District 1, advanced to the 3-yard line by third down and seemed moments away from forcing a second OT. However, Jordan Sandidge registered a tackle for loss that pushed THS back 3 yards.
Sandidge said the play was an inside rush that the Vikings had been running all night.
“I just took it upon myself to try to get up there and stop it, because they were killing us on it,” he said.
Rider noted the quarterback and ball carrier slightly collided, but “even if they had had a clean handoff, I think he would’ve stopped them for at least no gain.”
Tennessee High had the ball on the 6, with one more chance. During the Vikings’ timeout, Rider let his defensive coaches do most of the talking, but had one message.
“I told them we had to play one more play, we’re 6 yards away from going to the second round of the playoffs,” Rider said.
On the final play of the game, Volunteer pressured Vikings QB Mason Canty, but he evaded the sack. Canty scrambled one way, then back again, and threw it to a leaping Thomas Turnbull — with whom Canty already had hooked up for two TDs in the game. This time, however, the referee ruled Turnbull landed just shy of the goal line.
After the game, Turnbull said he came down across the goal line.
“I didn’t see it, I was at a bad angle, I don’t know,” Vikings coach Greg Stubbs said. “That’s the officials’ call, just like last week.
“This is probably my most disappointing loss. You’re going to have some ups and downs. We’re down tonight.”
The Vikings couldn’t have asked for a better start, though.
Volunteer tried for an onside kick on the opening kickoff, THS recovered and went on a seven-play scoring drive capped by a 7-yard pass from Canty to Turnbull.
Volunteer answered in just five plays. A third-down pass from Cradic to Antonio Watterson netted 45 yards, and Cradic gained 23 yards on successive option keepers to help tie the game.
Toward the end of the first half, an impressive 49-yard run by Cradic gave the Falcons a first-and-goal, and Shane Barlow punched it in from 2 yards.
Things got crazy in the third quarter. Tennessee High’s first possession of the second half ended with a lost fumble at midfield. But Volunteer fumbled on the very next play, and the Vikings’ Jeff Baker returned it deep into Falcons turf at the 13. Canty and Turnbull then hooked up again to help force the 14-14 deadlock.
The Falcons had a chance to score the winning TD late in the fourth quarter, on a drive sparked by fullback Sandidge’s 46-yard run. THS stopped Volunteer on a fourth down inside the 10, but didn’t have enough time to drive the field for a score of its own.
Keenan Shepard gained 122 of the Vikings’ 165 yards on the ground.
Cradic ran for 86 yards and threw for 107 on 11-of-18 passing. He also played defensive back, returned kicks and did all the kicking. Aaron Bennett was Cradic’s top target, with six catches.