GREENBACK — You just had a feeling that a turnover might prove to be the difference-maker.
And, in the end, it did.
Tanner Sexton intercepted a Samuel McCloud pass late in the third quarter to set up the first of two touchdowns by Jake Lawson. The sophomore fullback’s first score, a minute into the fourth quarter, broke a scoreless stalemate. The second, with less than a minute remaining, lifted Oneida to a 14-7, upset win over the Cherokees.
Greenback entered the game as a decided favorite, the state’s No. 2 Class 1A team in the latest Associated Press prep poll.
But Oneida’s ever-improving defense stymied the Cherokees’ two-pronged offensive attack. While standout senior Jordan Anderson rushed for 89 yards and a touchdown, the Indians limited Greenback to just 77 passing yards and picked off two passes.
“We challenged our guys on defense this week,” Oneida coach Tony Lambert said. “Our coaches have coached their tails off on keys. We want to keep our eyes on the key where they’re supposed to be. We try to use it as a life lesson: wandering eyes will get a man in trouble in any phases of his life.”
Neither team was able to mount a serious scoring threat until the fourth quarter. A 52-yard field goal attempt that was just inches short for Greenback and a 38-yard field goal attempt that was just inches wide for Oneida were the closest either team came to taking the zeros off the scoreboard.
Oneida started off by stringing together a series of first downs and moving the ball deep into Greenback territory on the game’s opening possession. But the drive ultimately stalled, and a fourth down pass fell incomplete.
After that, things bogged down a bit. Lawson, who has been a one-man wrecking ball against opposing defensive fronts through the first half of the season, was held in check by the Cherokees’ disciplined defense.
But Oneida’s offense kept the Indians in it. Early in the second half, Greenback opted to go for the home run on a third down play, and Anderson slipped behind cornerback Nate Bowling. But Bowling raced back to put himself into position to knock down what initially looked as though might be a developing touchdown pass.
On the Cherokees’ next possession, Cage West stepped in front of a McCloud pass and returned the interception into Greenback territory.
Greenback’s defense was doing its own to preserve the scoreless game, however.
A Nash Lay punt that dropped inside the 20-yard-line began a series of events that would allow the Indians to seize the momentum. Two plays later, Sexton stepped in front of McCloud’s pass to give Oneida possession in the Cherokees’ red zone. From there, the Indians’ used their runningback-by-committee approach to move the ball into scoring position, with Lawson capping the short scoring drive from a yard out.
“Tanner just kinda baited him and then did what he’s coached to do,” Lambert said. “I’m proud of Tanner. He needed that one for his confidence. I’m proud of the way our entire secondary played tonight.”
But Greenback came back onto the field determined, marching crisply to the end zone for the game-tying score, which came on a 28-yard run by Anderson with 6:07 to play.
From there, Oneida’s offensive line — and Lawson — simply took over.
“We told them after (Greenback) scored, ‘Alright, guys — they gave us theirs, now let’s give it back to ‘em,” Lambert said.
The Indians did just that. A key play came with Oneida facing a 4th-and-two at Greenback’s 30-yard-line. Quarterback Jacob Lambert used a hard count to draw the Cherokees offsides.
From there, Lawson took charge, moving the ball into field goal position. With senior backup Matt Slaven warming up on the sideline in the absence of Bryce Couch, who missed the game with an ankle injury, Lawson removed the need for a kick, breaking free from 11 yards out for the game-winning score.
Greenback’s last-gasp attempt fell short when a hail mary into the end zone bounced in and out of a receiver’s hands.
“I can’t say enough about our kids,” Lambert said. “I can’t say enough about our football coaches, our community, our staff . . . I’m just proud to be an Oneida Indian tonight.”