You would be hard-pressed to find a coach who believes more in the life lessons that football teaches than Oneida’s Tony Lambert.

On Friday, Lambert had another lesson for his Indians: wandering eyes will get you in trouble.

“Here’s the biggest thing,” Lambert said about Friday night’s defensive effort, which saw his team limit Happy Valley to just 152 yards of offense: “I thought our guys did a tremendous job of being able to stay focused on the keys.” 

Staying focused, Lambert said, is key — in football, and in life.

“It’s just like in life,” he said. “Wandering eyes gets you in trouble. It don’t matter what it is . . . if it’s your marriage, if it’s your walk with Christ, or what it is. Wandering eyes gets you in trouble, and we try to emphasize that on defense: if you take your eyes off your keys, it gets you in trouble. We did a great job staying on our keys tonight.”

An unlucky number: Happy Valley entered Friday’s game at Oneida with a boat-load of momentum, riding a 3-game winning streak that had many thinking the Warriors were the best team in Region 1-2A. Happy Valley, picked in the preseason to win the upper East Tennessee region, had rebounded from a 2-5 start with a 44-16 victory over a Sullivan North team that was once ranked as high as sixth in the state and a 21-0 win over South Greene, which won the Region 1 championship.

But the Warriors’ season ended as it began on Friday: with a loss. With the loss, Happy Valley closed its season at 5-6. And the sixth loss of the year had something in common with the other five: a single touchdown.

A 44-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter proved to be the only score that the Warriors could muster against Oneida. And in six losses this season, Happy Valley scored at least a single touchdown in each game — against Volunteer (33-7), Hampton (17-7), Cloudland (8-7), Grace Christian (31-7) and Johnson County (28-7). By contrast, the Warriors had scored 176 points in their five wins — an average of 35 points per game.

Region 2 dominates: Not that confirmation was needed, but it was given in the first round of the Tennessee high school playoffs on Friday: Region 2 is pretty good this year.

In Region 2-2A, three of four teams came away with victories to advance to the second round. In addition to Oneida’s 23-7 win over Happy Valley, Meigs County defeated Sullivan North 48-7, and Rockwood upset Hampton 7-6. In Region 1’s only win, Wartburg gave South Greene all the Rebels could handle before falling, 44-26.

Scott High’s region also took three of four games in the opening round. As expected, the two teams at the top of Region 2-3A — Alcoa and Austin-East — earned dominating victories. The Tornadoes defeated Claiborne 56-0, while the Roadrunners walked away with a 61-23 win over Chuckey-Doak. But further down the bracket, No. 4 seed Gatlinburg-Pittman took to the road to defeat Region 1-3A champion Johnson County, 36-33. The only Region 2-3A team to lose was Kingston, which rose from the ashes to earn a 3-seed in Region 2 with an impressive late-season run. The Yellow Jackets fell to Unicoi County, 27-20.

Likewise, Region 2-A took all but one game, with the lone exception being No. 4 Midway’s 36-22 loss at Region 1-A champion Cloudland. Other games saw Region 2 runner-up Coalfield stroll to a 56-14 win over Jellico, while third-place Oliver Springs shut out Hancock County, 39-0. Greenback, the regular season champion in Region 2-A, had an opening round bye.

From The Pressbox is a weekly sports column by Independent Herald editor Ben Garrett.