When it comes to the game of football, execution is in the eye of the beholder.
To fans, execution means one thing. To coaches, it means quite another — and, no matter what, it’s usually not good enough, especially with a two-hour road trip to Gatlinburg-Pittman looming.
But strictly from a fan’s perspective, Oneida executed just about as well Friday as a team can be expected to execute in a season-opening game.
Until an ill-advised dead ball personal foul penalty late in the game — the very sort of penalty that drives Oneida coach Tony Lambert bonkers — the Indians’ only penalty was a somewhat questionable holding penalty on the game’s opening possession. Contrast that with Claiborne, which had players jumping the snap on either side of the ball, totaling nine penalties for 65 yards.
Oneida did not turn the ball over, which has been a point of emphasis after key turnovers at inopportune times plagued the Indians last season. The Indians did put the ball on the ground once, but quickly fell on the ball.
Lambert made clear after the game that there’s work to do, and there will be much tougher tests ahead for the Indians; it’s not unfair to Claiborne to say that Friday’s opener might be one of the easiest games Oneida plays this season.
But, for the most part, the Indians looked like they were much closer to midseason form than a team playing with first-game jitters.
That was important, since Oneida had struggled in preseason scrimmages against Kingston and Stone Memorial.
“(It was good) to see our guys come out tonight and just do some of the small things we talked about,” Lambert said after the game.
A statistical deadlock: How close were Scott and Clinton in Friday’s game? Very. Both defenses played exceptionally well. Clinton finished with 222 yards of offense, the Highlanders with 221 yards. Clinton was three-of-10 on third down, Scott was three-of-nine.
There was one key stat that mattered most, however. Clinton was two-of-two in the red zone — the final 20 yards of the field in front of the end zone. Scott was one-of-four.
Had the ball bounced a different way, it would’ve been Clinton, not Scott, talking about crucial plays that stood out — a bad snap on a late fourth quarter punt, a fumble that was recovered by Scott’s Cayden Byrd.
Wheelchair-bound? When asked about the health of his team after Friday’s 49-9 win in New Tazewell, Lambert joked that, “The only guy hurt is me.”
Already suffering from a torn rotator cuff, Lambert injured his knee during the game after stepping in a hole. A quick assessment on the sideline by Scott Gilbert, a doctor of physical therapy, was that Lambert might have sustained a torn ACL.
“It looks like I might have some surgeries in my future,” he said. “I told them if they have to roll me out here in a wheelchair I’ll do the best I can. They thought that was cute.”
Still 0-0: Before Scott High’s season started, first-year head coach Josh Terry spoke of being able to replicate the unflinching optimism and even-handedness of his former boss, Keith Shannon, who retired from coaching after last season and is now the principal at Robbins Elementary School.
After Friday’s game, Terry sounded a lot like his coaching mentor as he vowed that his team would regroup after a heart-breaking loss to Clinton and bounce back.
“The character in that locker room is really, really high,” Terry said. “We’re 0-0 in the district. We worked our tail off to get this one and it didn’t happen, but that’s what we’re going to keep doing. That’s the way I’m programmed.”
Streaking into the foothills: “Did you ever think,” Oneida broadcaster Tim Smith asked during his on-air coverage Friday, “that we would be riding a three-game winning streak into this game against Gatlinburg-Pittman?”
No, if you’re an Oneida fan — and especially if you’re a former coach or player who participated in the Indians’ rivalry with the Highlanders — you probably wouldn’t think it.
From 1979 to 2009, a span of 30 years, Oneida faced Gatlinburg 13 times — and lost all 13 of those games. Through all the successes of the Jim May era, one thing the Indians didn’t do was beat Gatlinburg.
That changed the last time Oneida made the trip to the foothills of the Smokies. In 2015, Oneida won in overtime after a gutsy call to go for a two-point conversion paid off. They followed that up with thrilling wins at home in 2016 and 2017, the latter of which was also an overtime game.
Can Oneida extend the streak? The challenge isn’t an easy one. The Highlanders are much improved, and are coming off a 20-8 win over a Cloudland team that hung 46 points on them last year in Roan Mountain.
“We’re going to have to be able to handle explosive speed,” Lambert said of the Indians’ looming matchup with the Highlanders.
Lambert anticipates a good crowd to back his team in Gatlinburg.
“I know we’ll have a lot of folks up there because I’ve had a lot of people tell me they’re going up there and staying,” Lambert said. “I just hope we’re going up there to play football and not just to vacate.”
From the Pressbox is a weekly sports analysis column of the Independent Herald.