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Homecoming is always an exciting event simply on its own merits. But there was an extra energy in the air at Tiger Field Friday night, as everyone in the crowd and on the field knew it was the final time for Scotland County (2-5) and Knox County (2-5) to meet on the gridiron, at least for the foreseeable future. The game did not disappoint, as the Tigers needed a last second defensive play in the endzone to secure the victory over the Eagles 36-28.
“That was a good ballgame,” said a beaming Scotland County head coach Troy Carper. “It’s a shame that could be the last one for a while.” Carper admitted that things got a bit more interesting at the end than he intended. “We had a 22-point lead and I put some kids in that haven’t been able to play much. If we’re gonna build this program, we’ve gotta get those kids in the ballgame. That stuff happens and our kids fought back and won the ballgame.”
Knox County head coach Bruce Vannoy echoed Carper’s thoughts about the end of the rivalry series. “I hate it. I really do! Obviously, it was our choice. We felt like (the move to 8-man) was just something we had to do.” He added, “This is a rivalry, and we do enjoy it. It’s a good rivalry… it’s a clean rivalry. That’s the thing that’s great about it. It’s not a hate type of thing. We’re gonna miss it. Obviously, we have other sports (that compete against each other), but it’s not the same. Football’s just a little special.”
Scotland County used its large offensive line to establish the run, rushing for 271 yards in the game. The Tigers only attempted six passes- all in the first half. “Up front, Scotland just ran us over,” said Vannoy. “We weren’t really able to stop them all night. We finally got worn down.”
By contrast, Knox County was unable to establish the ground game, instead having to rely on the aerial assault. Connor Hayes went 17 of 29 for 193 yards and four touchdowns. Unfortunately, his line also included three interceptions. “We had three turnovers (off of interceptions), and it’s just hard to beat a good team with that many turnovers,” Vannoy noted. “All high school quarterbacks make some bad decisions, but (Hayes) also does things that are pretty remarkable.”
“That’s the first team that we really faced that tried to pass a lot on us,” Carper observed. “We just did a good job of taking the run away and making them pass on us.”
Knox County got on the board first with a 14-yard touchdown strike from Hayes to Branson Miller. The two-point try was no good, and Knox led 6-0 with 1:32 remaining in the first quarter.
Scotland County answered two seconds into the second quarter with a 1st and goal dive from the one-yard line from Alex Long. Hayden Long scored the two-point conversion with a bootleg left and Scotland took the lead 8-6 with 11:58 left in the first half.
A Corbyn Spurgeon interception set up the next Tiger score. Long connected on a seven-yard touchdown pass to Kabe Hamlin. Alex Long ran the two-point attempt in and it was 16-6 Tigers with 7:42 to play in the first half.
It was Knox County’s turn to strike a blow, and they did just that with a four-yard Hayes pass to Miller with 19.5 seconds remaining in the first half. For an encore, Hayes ran the two-point try in himself, and it was 16-14. After taking a 12-yard sack, Scotland headed to the halftime locker room with the lead.
Scotland County received the ball to start the second half. They needed only three plays to find the endzone with a Hayden Long 37-yard quarterback keeper. The two-point run by Alex Long was no good, and it was 22-14 Tigers with 10:53 left in the third quarter.
After Trayton Buckallew recovered an Eagle fumble at the Tiger 41-yard line, Scotland took five straight running plays to find paydirt. Alex Long busted a 45-yard run for the score, and Preston Sanchez scored the big man two-point conversion to make it 30-14 Tigers with 6:44 remaining in the third quarter.
After forcing a three-and-out, Scotland put together an eight-play, all-rushing drive that culminated with a Hayden Long 25-yard keeper for the touchdown. The two-point try was fumbled on the hand-off, and it was 36-14 Scotland with 1:22 remaining in the third quarter. That was the final scoring drive for the Tigers, but the fun was just beginning.
At this point, Carper put in most of his JV squad. After turning it over on downs to end an eight-play drive, the young Tigers watched Knox County put together a 70-yard scoring drive capped off by an 11-yard Hayes pass to Coltin Morrow. The two-point pass attempt was incomplete, and it was 36-20 Tigers with 2:19 to play in the game.
Three plays later, the JV Tigers had a disastrous toss play that turned into a 28-yard backward fumble recovered by the Eagles at the Tiger 16-yard line. Two plays later, Hayes hit Braydon Miller for a 16-yard touchdown pass. An option right to Elliott Ogden scored the two-point conversion, and it was suddenly a game at 36- 28 with 1:20 remaining.
At this point, Carper put his varsity back in. However, they were slow to get going, as Alex Long fumbled the ball away on the second play of the drive. Knox took over at their own 42- yard line and had 50.4 seconds to go 58 yards. A nine-yard run and 13-yard pass had Knox at the Tiger 36-yard line with 34.9 to play. A pair of incompletions along with a flag for a chop block set up a 3rd and 25 with 11.1 to play. An eight-yard completion to Branson Miller saw a roughing-the-passer penalty tacked on and it was 1st and 10 at the Scotland 28-yard line with 4.6 to play. With one bullet left in his gun, Hayes unloaded a pass to the left corner of the endzone, but Kabe Hamlin was lurking for the Tigers and he intercepted the pass, ending the game for a 36-28 Tiger victory.
Knox County had 79 yards rushing on 27 attempts. Hayes had 12 carries for 42 yards and Ogden had 12 carries for 24 yards. Hayes went 17 of 29 passing with 193 yards, 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Branson Miller led the Eagle receivers with 11 catches for 127 yards and 2 touchdowns. Morrow had 3 catches for 32 yards and a touchdown, and Braydon Miller had 2 catches for 21 yards and a touchdown. The Eagles were penalized 5 times for 35 yards, and fumbled twice, recovering both of them. Total time of possession was 26:08.
Scotland County had 271 yards rushing on 46 attempts. Alex Long carried 20 times for 153 yards and 2 touchdowns. Hayden Long carried 8 times for 95 yards and 2 touchdowns. Carson Harrison rushed 8 times for 21 yards. Long went 4 of 6 passing for 34 yards, 1 touchdown and an interception. Hamlin had 2 catches for 20 yards and a touchdown. The Tigers were flagged 4 times for 55 yards, and fumbled 5 times, losing 3 of them. Total time