KINGSPORT — The faces have changed, but the identity of Sullivan North’s football team remains the same.
The Raiders pounded Seymour with a bruising rushing attack on Thursday night at Benny Compton Field before falling 35-32 to the 5A program from Sevier County.
With running back Jacob Jasper sitting out, North used an ensemble cast of relatively unknown backs to grind out 340 yards on 65 carries. The Raiders led 32-28 early in the fourth quarter before Seymour quarterback Nick Sexton hit Larry Kennedy with a 62-yard TD pass on third-and-20 with 9:45 remaining in the game.
North’s final drive ended in Seymour territory when the Raiders turned the ball over on downs.
“We played real hard,” North coach Robbie Norris said. “Some of our inexperience showed at times. We’ve got to grow up a little bit, but all you can ask for is effort. They played as hard as they could play.”
Sexton, who holds every school record for passing at Seymour, offset North’s ground game with a dazzling aerial display. The senior signal-caller completed 11 of 16 passes for 287 yards and tossed five touchdowns.
The Eagles could muster only 30 yards on the ground, so their hopes rested largely on Sexton’s right arm. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound quarterback added scoring strikes of 33, 46, 55 and 25 yards.
“That showed the character of the football team,” Seymour coach Jim Moore said. “We had a chance to fold. Our defense was just giving up things right and left.
“We weren’t slowing them down, but our offense came back and making big plays. We just talked at halftime about doing the right things, we made some adjustments and it worked out for us.”
Somehow North managed to match Seymour TD for TD until Sexton and Kennedy hooked up in the fourth quarter to put the Eagles up for good.
Seth Maxwell ran for two touchdowns while Koby Goins, Nick Copas and Austin Linton added a TD apiece for the Raiders. Linton led the way, rumbling for 120 yards on 21 carries.
Moore said that North didn’t do anything fancy, but what the Raiders did do offensively, they did proficiently.
“They do it very well,” he said. “They’re a tough football team, so that’s a big win for us.”
North had the ball twice after falling behind 35-32, but the Raiders couldn’t come up with any more magic. Their first drive ended on an interception with 6:37 remaining in the fourth quarter.
After North’s defense came up with a stop, the Raiders moved the ball all the way down to Seymour’s 38-yard line before turning it over on downs.
Norris said the game will be a valuable learning experience for his team going forward.
“We like playing those bigger schools,” he said. “It makes you better, but tonight it might have showed a little bit. They came in and played a good game.”