Again, the second half stood out for Oneida. This time, though, it was for all the right reasons.
One week after Harriman handed the Indians their first loss of the season and bounced them from the state rankings with a dominating second half performance, it was Oneida that took charge in the second half against Cumberland Gap on Friday, turning a 14-7 halftime lead into a 26-7 win over the Panthers.
After being limited to 60 yards of offense in the first half of Friday’s game, Oneida imposed its will on Cumberland Gap in the second half, transitioning to a power look that took advantage of an experienced offensive line and allowed the Indians’ running backs to out-muscle the Panthers.
After Cumberland Gap dominated time of possession in the first half, Oneida took almost seven minutes off the clock to start the second half, going 62 yards in 12 plays to punch the ball into the end zone for a 20-7 lead.
Before that, it was a couple of big special teams plays by sophomore Kolby Morgan that helped spark the Indians. Morgan first boomed a 57-yard punt over the heads of Cumberland Gap’s return men. Then, four plays later, he returned a punt 61 yards for a touchdown to break a 7-7 tie.
Defensively, the Indians were solid, especially in the second half. Cumberland Gap’s only score came on a fourth-and-14 touchdown pass that saw the receiver land just in-bounds. After putting up 120 yards in the first half, the Panthers were limited to 37 yards of total offense in the second half.
“I thought defensively we played pretty sound,” Oneida coach Tony Lambert said. “We got a bead on them a little bit. We didn’t tackle well in the first half. We don’t have a lot of speed so we have to be perfect in space and take good angles. We talked to them at halftime about taking good angles. We weren’t taking them in the first half and we had some missed tackles on the edge. But those are things we can fix.”
Oneida got off to a good start, with Morgan scoring from 29 yards out on the Indians’ first possession of the game.
But Cumberland Gap answered with a lengthy touchdown drive, covering 62 yards in 13 plays and taking more than six minutes off the clock before Caden Brunsma’s fourth-and-goal touchdown pass to Brady Pearman one minute into the second quarter.
The Indians were not able to move the ball on the ensuing possession, which was just their second of the game, but Morgan’s punt backed the Panthers up. Then, after Oneida’s defense forced a three-and-out, Morgan picked up Cumberland Gap’s punt on a bounce and took advantage of a key block on the edge to go 61 yards for a score, giving his team a 14-7 lead.
“Special teams is a third of the game,” Lambert said. “People have seen our practice schedules before and they say, ‘You mean you spend that much time on special teams?’ Yeah, we do every day. I think it pays off big for us.”
That’s the way the score stood at halftime, after Cumberland Gap intercepted a pass and returned it deep into Oneida territory, only to have Jakob Hamilton force a fumble that gave the ball back to the Indians inside the 10-yard-line.
The Indians ditched their shotgun wing-t offense to start the second half, moving under center and powering the football at Cumberland Gap.
“I felt like we could get under center,” Lambert said. “I felt like there might be something tipping them a little bit when we were in the gun. Coach (Jimmy) May and them did a good job mixing it up and keeping them off-balance.”
The transition was not a difficult one to make, Lambert said.
“We always say if we need to we can get under center,” he said. “I don’t like getting in the shotgun on the goal line and things of that nature, so it’s built into our offense. It’s not really a transition, and it just lets us hit them a little bit quicker.”
Johnny Manis scored on a one-yard run for Oneida’s first touchdown of the second half. Then, after the Indians got the ball back, Bryson Buttram scored on a 17-yard run just after the Indians converted a fourth-and-inches play deep in Cumberland Gap territory.
Later in the fourth quarter, the Indians had a fourth down touchdown pass wiped off the board by an illegal shift penalty, and turned the ball over on downs on the next play.
Despite the win, Lambert said his team did not play its best football.
“We’re going to have to pick it up, but we’re capable of picking it up,” he said. “That’s the thing. We’re capable of playing with great effort and great energy.”
Lambert said his team tried a little too hard at times to bounce back from the previous week’s disastrous second half at Harriman.
“There was a little bit of pressure,” he said. “We played so bad last week that I felt like we were reaching a little bit.”