Nineteen yards of offense. One first down.
To say that the first half was ugly for Oneida’s offense on Friday would have been an understatement. A Gatlinburg-Pittman team that had given up 46 points to a Cloudland team just seven days earlier stymied the Indians for 24 minutes.
Oneida Coach Tony Lambert didn’t mince words after the game. “I thought we got whipped physically in the first half,” he said. “I thought our offensive line got whipped physically in the first half.”
You might have wondered what the proverbial fly on the wall was hearing in the Oneida locker room at halftime, especially when the Indians flipped the script in the second half by taking over the game.
If you expected Lambert to chew on his team at halftime, you would have been wrong. He said after the game that there were no hard words, no lines drawn in the sand. Simply a challenge to be more physical.
“I just talked to them,” he said. “I didn’t really scold them. I just challenged them to the fact that, hey, if you want to dance, let’s go out there and dance. Let’s make it a danged fist-fight in a phone book. We needed to bring our physicality because they were bringing it and we weren’t.”
The result? “Those cats responded to it,” Lambert said.
“That offensive line, and those running backs, Evan Roberts . . . boys, we just went to work,” he added.
Lambert credited his seniors for leading by example.
“Those big uglies and those running backs are just such high-character people,” he said. “That senior class has got some tough people in it. That’s when their leadership shows up. Those guys step up.”
Going to war
Scott’s four non-region games this season are against two Class 5A schools and two Class 4A schools. It’s a tough schedule, one that a Highlander assistant coach quipped is like “playing 10 wars.”
Highlander head coach Keith Shannon is well aware that football is just a game, but he feels his players’ pain, just the same.
“Trust me, I know we play a game,” Shannon said. “But at the same time, we use this game as life-building possibilities for these young men, trying to teach them life skills and things like that. And it’s as important as life or death for these young men every time they take the field under the lights. So I’m not going to minimize their effort, their enthusiasm, their work and things like that.”
Oneida has never been known as a flashy offense under Lambert, but the Indians’ faster approach on the offensive side of the ball may have paid dividends Friday.
Oneida, which debuted a new no-huddle approach this season, has the ability to get to the line and snap the ball quickly by signaling in plays from the sideline, a concept that has become increasingly common in football over the years but that was foreign to the Oneida program prior to this season.
In Friday’s game against Gatlinburg, Oneida ran 72 offensive plays to just 41 for Gatlinburg. It was a significant difference, and perhaps one of the reasons why the Highlanders’ defense appeared gassed near the end of the game. After limiting the Indians to just 19 yards in the first half, Gatlinburg gave up 260 yards in the second half, and could not stop Oneida when it mattered most.
Stats can sometimes be deceiving. At first glance, Gatlinburg’s 216 yards of offense against Oneida was not a bad effort by the Indians’ defense, but it was a far cry from the 35 yards Oneida limited Claiborne to a week ago.
But a look inside the box score reveals a truer picture of how Friday’s game unfolded. Gatlinburg had two big scoring plays in the first half. One was a 77-yard touchdown run on third and long after a running back broke through the right side of the line. The other was an 81-yard touchdown catch and run after a receiver slipped a tackle behind the line of scrimmage.
On those two plays, Gatlinburg gained 158 yards. On their other 39 plays, the Highlanders gained just 78 yards. And they had only 34 yards in the second half.
Despite a large senior class, Scott High is a young an inexperienced football team. That has shown up at times in the first two weeks of the season, as the Highlanders have had inopportune breakdowns that have perhaps cost them two games they should have won.
But Scott offensive coordinator Josh Terry had this to say about the Highlanders’ 21-14 loss to Stone Memorial last week: “At the end of the day, God is still God. We’ll go forward, and he’s still in the soul-saving business. As long as that’s still going on, I don’t think anything that comes out of a sport or a game is going to be able to keep us from looking each other in the eye as brothers. The boys are playing hard. We’re going through some growing pains, but everybody from an effort standpoint is leaving it all out on the field. We’ve just gotta get better.”
With Scott High off to an 0-2 start and staring at top-ranked Alcoa this week, Shannon had a message for fans who might choose to grumble about the Highlanders’ start.
“I know how sometimes folks are a little bit fair-weather fans and supporters and things like that,” Shannon said. “Those folks aren’t fans at all. If they can’t understand the things our kids are doing and the way they’re fighting, they can just not come.”
Shannon said he has made it clear to his players that he has their backs.
“We have a bunch of heavy hearts in there (in the locker room), players and coaches,” Shannon said. “I’ll be very, very adamant about the point I made to our kids: I’ve got their back. There’s no question. I’m talking I’ve got our coaches’ backs and I’ve got our players’ backs. There’s nothing our kids are doing, there’s nothing our coaches are doing that’s wrong, in my opinion.
“We’ve lost two games we should’ve won,” Shannon added. “If you want to blame somebody, blame me. But we’re not playing the blame game. I told them I’ve got their backs and I hope they’ve got their coaches’ backs.”