Prep football has a funny way of evening things out.
A season ago, the McMinn County Cherokees lost three of their six games by a total of 11 points and it cost them a playoff berth. Ooltewah, on the other hand, won four one-score games in posting a nine-win season that ended in the second round of the playoffs.
Friday night beneath the bright lights of Ooltewah’s Jim Jarvis Field things evened out.
McMinn County rode into town with a pair of season-opening shutouts, a week’s rest, and a chip on its shoulder; all of which helped play a big role in knocking off the Owls 24-14 in a big Region 2-6A battle.
It’s huge to win our first region game against a quality opponent,” McMinn County coach Bo Cagle beamed after the final horn. “It doesn’t get us in the playoffs, but it beats having to play uphill all season. Are we a playoff team? That remains to be seen, but we sure have some scrappy kids.”
For the Owls, now 1-1 in the region, it was a second loss which came down to the end only to see the magic fail to materialize in the end.
“Last year we won this game on the last play of the game. We escaped by the hair of our chin. And we came back to beat Bradley with a magical fourth quarter rally, but we’ve lost two games now that we had a chance and couldn’t get it done. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes,” said Ooltewah boss Scott Chandler, who lost earlier this year on a last second field goal to Red Bank.
This times it was a 29-yard field goal by McMinn’s Frederico Banuelos with 48 seconds left that officially iced the cake, but it was a relentless Cherokee rushing attack that went slash, gash and bash to the tune of 51 rushes for 243 yards that provided the yeast for the cake.
Cherokee tailback Jalen Hunt was the slash man, running it 24 times for 150 yards while trigger man Parker Maney gashed it on nine QB keepers for 62 yards before going out with an injury in the third period. And bruising fullback Jalen Sharp pounded it 15 times for 39 yards, but five of the totes produced first downs as McMinn methodically put the game away in the final period.
For Hunt, it looked like a flag football game in which he had sewn his flag to his belt as Owl defender after Owl defender found out arm tackles weren’t going to bring down the 160-pounder.
“I’ve got to credit the guys up front, most of them who are young guys. And honestly, the offseason in the weight room plays a big role in it too. That’s where tonight started. This is a really big win for us, and hopefully it’s another step towards a playoff game,” said Hunt, who also had a pair of interceptions on the night
The Cherokees have made the playoffs just once in the past six years, and had lost to these Owls six straight years coming in, but after opening with two shutouts and using a bye week to get ready for the night, it was a team not lacking in confidence. And resilency.
McMinn lost three starters in the first half alone, and Cagle was happy with the way the next man up attitude permeated the Cherokee sideline. As the team huddled after the win, he asked guys to raise their hands if they didn’t think they would get on the field tonight. It looked like a Sunday revival with the outstretched arms.
“We preach to these guys about them only being one play away from having to step up, and tonight we saw it come to fruition. Always be ready, we tell them, and they were tonight. I think that’s the part I am most pleased with because I know I’ve got guys I won’t hesitate to put in to get the job done down the line. You can’t beat game experience, we got a lot of it tonight,” Cagle said.
One of the guys he mentioned by name was big sophomore Jaryd Gable, who was a rock on the defensive line. Another was Jalan James, and Kotler Blackwell on the defensive side of the ball, which played angry after allowing its first score of the year.
The Owls took a 7-0 lead sparked by a fourth down stop at McMinn’s 38. Ooltewah went the distance in just four plays with Lane Moore sneaking it from the 1. The Cherokees immediately answered with an 80-yard, 9-play drive – all runs – with Maney answering with his own QB sneak from the 1 just 4:13 before the half to knot it. Hunt, did just that, when Moore put the ball in air on the ensuing drive, finding the pass for the first of his two picks and put McMinn in business at the 39. Five rushing plays later, the Cherokees found paydirt again with Maney keeping on a five-yard run for a 14-7 lead at the break.
Hunt opened the second half with another interception on Ooltewah’s opening drive and returned it all the way to the 17, and he finished it off himself on the third play of the drive with a nine-yard scamper for a 21-7 lead.
The Owls fought back, though, with their best drive of the night. Jaequan Greenhill had 46 of his 108 rushing yards for the night on a 77-yard Owl drive, scoring from the 3 to make it a 21-14 score with 6:24 left in the third. From that point on, the Owls were held to two 3-and-outs while McMinn rushed it 26 of 28 clock eating plays to seize control of the outcome. The first drive ended in a missed field goal after Chase Sanders broke up a pass in the end zone to force the field goal try, but after the second 3-and-out by the defense, the Cherokees drove it from their 44 to the 12 with 11 straight runs before Banuelos banged it home to seal the deal.
“We really used the off week to get us ready for this game. This was two weeks in the making. It was perfect timing and it was nice to go out and execute and get the job done,” said Sharp afterwards.
Added Cagle: “Realistically, they have been better than us most years, but I like this group we’ve got this year. They got down early and overcame a lot of adversity tonight.
The Cherokees were stellar on both fronts with guys like Garrett Priest, Bryce Goodner, Cade Hipps, Shylon Simpson and Will Miller leading the attack. Ooltewah got a fantastic effort from linebacker Josh Shevlin, who got injured late and was missed on the final driv.
The Owls will try to regroup next week with another big region outing against visiting Bradley Central, while McMinn brings in William Blount for its second region outing.
McMINN CO 0 14 7 3 – 24
OOLTEWAH 0 7 7 0 – 14
OO – Lane Moore 1 run (Braeden Haynes kick) (7:42, 2nd)
MC – Parker Maney 1 run (Frederico Banuelos kick) (4:13, 2nd)
MC – Parker Maney 5 run (Frederico Banuelos kick) (1:12, 2nd)
MC – Jalen Hunt 9 run (Frederico Banuelos kick) (9:02, 3rd)
OO – Jaequan Greenhill 3 run (Braeden Haynes kick) (6:24, 3rd)
MC – Frederico Banuelos 29 yard field goal ();48, 4th)
MC STATS OO
20 1st Downs 11
51-243 Rush 24-122
27 Pass 80
270 Total 202
4-8-0 Passes 7-20-3
6-65 Penalties 8-54
3-28.7 Punts 2-32.0
2-0 Fumbles 2-0
Rushing: Jalen Hunt 24-150, Parker Maney 9-62, Jalen Sharp 15-39, Will Harris 3-(minus 10) (MC); Jaequan Greenhill 19-108, Lane Moore 5-14 (OO).
Passing: Parker Maney 4-6-0 27 yards, Will Harris 0-2-0 0 yards (MC); Lane Moore 7-20-3 80 yards (OO).
Receiving: Jalen Sharp 1-7, Jalan James 1-6, Aiden Bautsch 1-10, Jalen Hunt 1-4 (MC); Tucker Miller 3-30, Fisher Perry 2-18, Jeremiah West 1-21, Dawson Jones 1-8 (OO).
Records: McMinn County (3-0, 1-0 Region 2-6A), Ooltewah (1-2, 1-1 Region 6-2A)
(Email James Beach at firstname.lastname@example.org)