KINGSPORT — In its gridiron debut, Wise County’s Eastside High proved worthy of its historic mascot.
The Spartans were overwhelmed by a superior force in the end, but not before putting up stiff resistance.
“You regret any time you lose. I don’t even like to lose to my daughter playing Go Fish,” said Eastside coach Matt Hamilton. “But we had a pretty good showing against a pretty good football team.”
Despite getting 180 yards rushing from running back Kaire Thompson and 143 from quarterback Cory Rowe, Sullivan North didn’t consolidate its 28-7 non-conference victory until the fourth quarter.
“Eastside has a good football team,” said Golden Raiders coach Robbie Norris, whose team led 14-7 at the half. “I think they earned our kids’ respect.”
They were close to losing it early. Eastside looked wide-eyed after the slippery Thompson weaved through the seams for a 57-yard scoring run on North’s first offensive snap of the ballgame. Rowe hit Matt Kendrick for the 2-point conversion pass and an 8-0 lead.
The Raiders (2-0) recovered the subsequent onsides kick and a blowout appeared imminent. But, two snaps later, the Spartans gathered up a Jacob Jasper fumble to forestall that momentum.
A 54-yard gain on the option keeper by Rowe set up Thompson’s 1-yard touchdown crash for the 14-0 lead with 2:33 remaining in the first period.
Despite being down two touchdowns, the Spartans no longer looked intimidated. Eastside got a kick return to midfield by Ethan Collins and proceeded to pound it down to the North red zone in 10 snaps before the Raiders finally stuffed them on downs.
Emboldened, the pristine team in white, gray and green finally scored the first touchdown in program history on its next series. The Spartans moved it 55 yards on 12 snaps, capped by quarterback Caleb Riner’s 17-yard TD strike to Derek Clark.
Nathan Minor’s PAT kick cut it to 14-7 with 1:39 remaining in the first half.
After intermission, the Raiders made the newcomers pay for their insolence as Rowe and Thompson ran rough-shod over Eastside in a five-play scoring drive capped by the North quarterback’s 1-yard scoring sneak for the 20-7 lead.
Rowe’s conversion pass attempt to Kendrick failed, giving the Spartans one last surge of hope.
Eastside running backs Darren Greear, Erikk Banks and Cody Lawson kept the chains moving in a 14-play drive that covered 70 yards before bogging down inside the North 10 yard line.
At fourth and long, Riner’s desperation pass attempt was picked off by Thompson, who blasted off 97 yards for an apparent score.
The touchdown was called back due to a block in the back call against North — one of seven flags the Raiders collected for minus-70 yards. But the seed had been planted.
“That was a sophomore mistake,” said Hamilton of Riner’s interception. “He’ll learn to put it into the bleachers instead of trying to force it.”
The Spartans gave ground grudgingly until Rowe bounced outside for a 59-yard scoring run with 8:29 left. Rowe added the conversion run and, for all practical purposes, it was over.
“We didn’t play bad. We just played stupid sometimes,” said Norris, who also got an interception from Daniel Minnick, 10 tackles from Bon Scott Salyer and eight tackles from C.J. Wells.