PIKEVILLE, Tenn. — A pair of fourth quarter defenses and a dominant defense.
That was the story of Oneida’s 14-0 win over Bledsoe County here Friday, as the Indians snapped their three-game losing skid in a tune-up game ahead of a showdown with arch-rival Coalfield in this week’s regular season finale.
Oneida (6-3) failed to find the end zone for the first three quarters. But Bledsoe County (3-6) never got close. The Warriors, who are embroiled in a fight for postseason eligibility in Region 3-AA, were limited to 109 yards of offense and did not pick up a first down until the third quarter.
The game was not as close as it seemed, due to Bledsoe County’s inability to move the football. The Warriors had only 35 yards of offense in the first half, and never got within 40 yards of the end zone. In fact, Bledsoe County crossed midfield just once on a night that six of its nine possessions end without a single first down. The Warriors did not move into the positive yardage column until their fourth possession of the game.
“I thought we played sound,” Oneida head coach Tony Lambert said. “They’ve got speed and you hold your breath about every time they snap it. We challenged our kids and I thought we played really hard.”
As for Oneida’s offense, there was not a lot of positive in the first half. The Indians had an opportunity to score that was killed by a mishandled snap and a penalty. But as the game progressed, Oneida gradually began to assert itself more. That paid off with a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns.
“Offensively, it just seemed like we couldn’t get the ground game going. Bledsoe had a lot to do with that. They had a lot of kids on the line of scrimmage and everybody else within five or six yards of the ball,” Lambert said. “I thought in the second half our offensive line came alive a little bit. Our backs ran a little harder in the second half and we got something going.”
Oneida spent most of the game in a double-tight end look, selling out on its ability to run the football. It paid off in the end, as the Indians finished with 262 rushing yards.
After a career-high 96 yards against top-ranked Meigs County a week earlier, sophomore running back Bryson Buttram had his first 100-yard rushing game at Bledsoe County, finishing with 140 yards on 27 carries. Fellow sophomore Elijah West was effective when called upon to throw the ball, completing three of five passes for 29 yards.
Perhaps the biggest statistic of the game was time of possession. The Indians were able to move the ball well enough to keep drives alive and keep Bledsoe County’s defense on the field. Oneida ran 66 plays to just 30 for Bledsoe County, controlling the ball for 33:45 to the Warriors’ 14:15. That paid off in the fourth quarter, when the Indians began to gash a gassed Bledsoe County defense with their rushing attack.
The first touchdown came on a four-yard run by Buttram. The second came on a one-yard plunge by Johnny Manis, who had earlier had a career-long 73-yard touchdown run wiped off the board due to an Oneida penalty.
While the Indians’ touchdowns didn’t come until the fourth quarter, it was only their own mistakes that stopped them for much of the second half. The first drive of the third quarter saw Oneida drive inside Bledsoe County’s 20-yard-line before a mishandled snap placed the offense behind the sticks and forced a third-and-long pass that was intercepted by the Warriors’ Treshon Berry. Oneida’s other three possessions of the second half all ended in the end zone, though Manis’s long run was wiped off due to the penalty.
Bledsoe County also had its best offensive success in the second half. But success was a relative term. The Warriors picked up their first first down of the game in the third quarter, but a holding penalty backed the ball up and forced a pass, which was intercepted by Oneida’s Trace Sexton. Later, after a 21-yard pass play moved the ball into Oneida territory, Will Barnhart came up with one of his two sacks to force a punt.
“I didn’t think we matched our intensity we had last week,” Lambert said. “But it is a win. We found a way to win the game and we need to make that a positive. A shutout is always a good thing.”