When Ooltewah’s Owls needed a spark – from anybody – against the Tyner Rams on Friday the Owls got two from their stout-hearted defense that led to two touchdowns in a span of 62 seconds.
Sophomore linebacker Tyler Reid got a fumble recovery and defensive back Mike Williams blocked a Tyner punt in the end zone and linebacker Alonzo Blackwell recovered it for a touchdown.
Those defensive heroics enabled the Owls to break away from a 9-7 halftime deficit and power into a 21-9 lead and they went on to defeat the Rams, 31-16, in a non-district game at Bob Evans Field.
And the first Ooltewah player to praise the defense was power-back Desmond Pittman, who rushed for a game-high 187 yards on 23 carries with touchdown runs of 2 and 10 yards. The 5-foot-11-inch, 240-pound Pittman bolted 37 yards on the game’s first play and had four other runs that ranged from 15 to 29 yards.
“I think they’re pretty good,” Pittman said of the Owls’ defensive unit, which held Tyner to zero yards of offense in the second half until Willie Stewart tossed a 44-yard touchdown pass to Rodney Watson on the Rams’ final play of the game.
“I give our defense all the credit tonight,” Pittman said.
Ooltewah (3-1), which takes on rival undefeated East Hamilton – the Hurricanes drilled winless Riverdale, 42-21, on Friday – next week in a District 5-AAA showdown with league title implications, were sloppy throughout the first half and Tyner’s defense had a lot to do with the Owls’ erratic play.
The Owls had 115 yards of offense in the opening two quarters, 89 on the ground. Pittman had 92 yards rushing in the first half, but three other players were a combined minus-3 yards, including the minus yardage on the safety.
Tyner (0-3), which was playing its first home game of the young season, had 204 yards of offense at halftime, including 119 on the ground.
“We played well in the first half,” Tyner coach Wayne Turner said, “especially defensively.”
Ooltewah coach Mac Bryan had to agree.
“It was Tyner,” Bryan said of the Owls sub-par play in the first half. “They have good athletes and played us in straight man coverage, loaded up the box and we needed to make some plays. We were hit and miss and knew that may be how it would be.
“We thought we could hit a couple of big ones, but they didn’t come. When they don’t come you sputter.”
Ooltewah, which has the state’s third-most potent scoring offense with a 44.5-point average, managed seven first-half points, the touchdown coming on Pittman’s 2-yard burst to cap a 48-yard, five-play drive set up by Edward Hayes’ interception.
The game changed quickly in the third quarter, however.
Tyner got the second-half kickoff and on its second play from scrimmage, Stewart fumbled and Reid smothered the ball at the Rams’ 25. Pittman churned out a 15-yard gainer to the 10 and scored on the next play and Ooltewah had a 14-9 lead with 10:53 left in the third quarter.
“I always try to pay attention to all the details,” Reid said of his timely recovery. “I was just playing football.”
On the Rams’ next possession, Ooltewah’s defense forced a punt on fourth-and-13 from the Tyner 5. Punter Kevin Cortes’ kick was blocked by Williams and Blackwell fell on it in the end zone to push the Owls’ lead to 21-9.
In 62-second span, the Owls scored twice and dealt the Rams’ bid for an upset a crushing blow.
“The defense needed to turn things around just so the offense could do what they needed to do,” said Strickland, who had 11 tackles – 10 were solo stops – and four sacks in a sterling effort. “We struggled in the first half and I blame it on the defense. We didn’t execute our plays.”
The teams exchanged punts and then Ooltewah’s defense – Strickland, in particular – really showed its grit on Tyner’s next possession.
After picking up a first down, the Rams started going backwards.
Reid sacked Miller for a 10-yard loss.
Strickland corralled Miller on back-to-back plays for a combined loss of 15 yards and on fourth-and-35 the Rams punted the ball away.
That led to a 69-yard, seven-play drive – Pittman picked up 51 yards on five carries – and quarterback Brody Binder tossed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Williams to push the Owls’ lead to 28-9 with 11:44 left in the game.
“In the second half, we got some field positions, some short fields and Desmond did a heck of a job running the ball,” Bryan said. “The defense gave us the spark and the offense kept plugging along.
“If people are going to press you, you have to make some plays. Tyner’s coaching staff had a good plan for us and their kids played hard. The bottom line, and what I like when things didn’t go our way, we showed some character by playing better and kept on coming at them.”
Turner was disappointed in his team’s emotional approach to the second half after putting forth great effort in the opening two quarters.
“In the second half, we didn’t play with the same intensity and enthusiasm,” said Turner, who is in his 23rd year as Tyner’s head coach. “We gave them opportunities to score quick in the third quarter and that hurt. They came back ready to play in the second half and we didn’t. Give them credit for the adjustments they made at halftime.”
Ooltewah’s final points came on Laslo Toser’s 25-yard field goal with 8:06 left in the game.
On the Rams’ final possession, they started from the Owls’ 44 and had zero yards of offense in the second half at the time. At one point on their previous drive, the Rams were minus-29 yards.
But Rodney Watson’s leaping catch of Stewart’s pass on a reverse play put the Rams in positive territory and gave them their second touchdown with 22.1 seconds on the clock.
“That made me upset,” Strickland said. “We practiced that for the longest time, yet they still scored on it.”
The Owls gave Tyner a safety – punter Austin Rector stepped out of the end zone on fourth-and-11 from their own 7 – but took the lead on Pittman’s first score.
Tyner got the 9-7 halftime lead when Miller scored from 15-yards out on a quarterback draw with 5.6 seconds left in the second quarter.
Miller finished with 165 yards of total offense, including 107 on 12-of-23 passing, to pace the Rams, who also started the 2011 season with three straight losses and still made the Class AA playoffs where they lost to nemesis Alcoa in the first round.
Sophomore linebacker Jeremiah Jackson dished out some hard hits in Friday’s game and finished with 16 tackles.
Ooltewah 0 7 14 10 -- 35
Tyner 2 7 0 7 -- 16
TYN – Safety, Ooltewah punter stepped out of end zone, 6:07
OOL – Desmond Pittman 2 run (Laslo Toser kick), 2:05
TYN – Haasan Miller 15 run (Kevin Cortes kick), .05
OOL – Pittman 10 run (Toser kick), 10:53
OOL – Alonzo Blackwell recovered blocked punt in end zone (Toser kick), 9:51
OOL – Mike Williams 13 pass from Brody Binder (Toser kick), 12:00
OOL – FG Toser 25, 8:06
TYN – Rodney Watson 44 pass from Willie Stewart (Cortes kick), 0:22
First Downs 14 14
Rushes-Yards 34-206 41-98
Passing Yards 39 151
Total Yards 50-245 65-249
Com.-Att.-Int. 4-16-1 13-24-1
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 2-1
Punts.-Avg. 3-27.3 6-26.5
Penalties-Yds. 6-46 7-78187
RUSHING — Ooltewah: Desmond Pittman 23-187, Mike Williams 1-21, Brody Binder 6-4, Brandon Byrd 2-3, Demontes Earls 1-minus 2, Austin Rector 1-minus 7; Tyner: Haasan Miller 19-58, Sadik Spence 6-25, Willie Stewart 2-6, Kalan Hardley 1-6, No. 28 1-1, Jaylen Grimes 3-minus 1.
PASSING — Ooltewah: Binder 4-16-1-39; Tyner: Miller 12-23-1-107, Stewart 1-1-0-44.
RECEIVING — Ooltewah: Pittman 3-26, Williams 1-13; Tyner: Spence 5-30, Stewart 3-16, Rodney Watson 2-59, C.J. Ryals 1-39, Drakkel Parker 1-7, Grimes 1-0.
TACKLES (UA-A) – Ooltewah: Jeremiah Jackson 8-8 16, David Strickland 10-1 11, Alonzo Blackwell 9-0 9, Nick Putman 6-2 8, Rashaun Freeman 5-2 7; Tyner: Jarrett Watson 8-0 8, Kendrick Fuller 5-1 6, Quan Springs 3-0 3, C.J. Ryals 2-0 2, Martavius Dunnigan 2-0, No. 28 2-0 2.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)