KINGSPORT — Sullivan South had a ton of penalties in Friday’s season opener with Cherokee.
Fortunately for the Rebels, they had several tons’ worth of offense.
It took a 32-yard field goal by Brad Burdine with less than a minute remaining to translate South’s 422 yards of total offense into a 38-35 non-conference win over the high-flying Chiefs.
Burdine, recruited off the soccer squad, hit three point-after-touchdown kicks, had one blocked, had another disrupted by an errant snap and hit the winning field goal with 42.8 seconds on the clock.
It was the placekicker’s first football game. Ever.
“I still don’t know if (Burdine) knows what happened,” joked South coach Sam Haynie. “I guess he thinks that’s how the game goes, so we’re not going to tell him any different.”
Cherokee’s Matt Seals missed a 49-yard attempt as time expired. He probably took it harder than he needed to.
Chiefs quarterback Ryan Gibson, who got few live snaps backing up Ty Ryans last season, unloaded on South for 292 passing yards. Somehow the Rebels contained him to only two scoring strikes of 20 and 41 yards — and kept the Chiefs out of viable field goal range on the final surge.
“For my quarterback’s first game, I’m really proud of the way he handled things. He did some great things and everybody played well, at times,” said Cherokee coach Mike Sivert, who got 42 yards and three touchdowns from hard-nosed running back Evan McCracken, whose 2-point conversion run tied it at 35 with 4:23 remaining in the game.
The game got off to a wild start, with Teagan Trent’s 84-yard opening kickoff return setting up McCracken’s inaugural 5-yard TD crash.
Moments later, Blake Christian answered with a 75-yard scoring run.
And it was on.
“Honestly, I thought we would put it to them. But I guess we had to learn how to handle some adversity,” said Christian, who rushed for 202 yards, including his 51-yard scoring scramble that kept South ahead 35-27 with 7:11 remaining in the game.
Some of the adversity was self-inflicted. The Rebels were penalized 11 times for 132 yards. Probably worse, the flags slowed South’s new cartoon signal-board play-calling system, which is supposed to be fast paced.
Cherokee also had its share of troubles, giving up a safety in the first quarter because of an errant snap on a punt attempt.
On the whole, exciting plays outnumbered the duds. For two teams that seldom see one another, they certainly behaved at times like bitter rivals.
Quarterback Dylan Wieger passed for 146 of South’s 149 passing yards, including scoring strikes of 18 and 10 yards to wide receiver Evan Headrick.
“That was a barnburner out there,” said Wieger, whose first-quarter toss to Headrick put South up 23-7.
“We got out to an early lead, but they didn’t give up. We knew they weren’t going to give up, and they were physical the whole game,” he said.
South also got a scoring run from Jacob Strickler, who otherwise made his presence felt on the defensive side of the football.
Cherokee’s Tanner Trent had a big night, hauling in nine catches for 118 yards, including Gibson’s 20-yard TD connection. Jacob Watson got the catch on Gibson’s longest scoring strike of the night.
South’s Christian Comsa had three catches for 57 yards.
“The bottom line for us all around was too many mistakes. And they could say the same thing,” Haynie said. “It was an ugly win. But that was better than a pretty loss, and we’ll take it.”