DANDRIDGE — As many times as Bearden shot itself in the foot, from the second quarter to the game’s final seconds with victory seemingly a guarantee before a near disaster, the Bulldogs’ foot specialist for scoring turned out to be the difference.
Kicker Daniel Kinney has made several field goals of 50 yards or more in practice, so BHS head coach Josh Jones didn’t have to ask the junior if he could nail a 50-yarder to break a 20-20 tie against Jefferson County. It was especially important, being late in the third quarter of a second-round TSSAA Division I-6A second-round playoff game at JCHS Friday night, Nov. 10.
“Honestly, I went out there just thinking that I’ve done it a million times in a row,” said Kinney, whose 50-yard kick with 1:19 left in the third had plenty of accuracy and distance to give Bearden a 23-20 lead it would hold onto for dear life late in the game. Holder Madden Duffey did a nice job placing a high snap.
“(Coach Jones) has put me in great opportunities in practice … just putting that pressure on me. So I’ve been there before and I knew exactly what to do,” Kinney said.
“We see Daniel Kinney making 55, 56, 57 (-yard field goals) all the time in practice, literally not just once on the season,” Jones said. “We never attempted one that far in the game, but I had all the confidence in the world in him, and he hit it with plenty of room to spare.”
The Bulldogs 23-20 victory earned a rematch with undefeated East Tennessee power Bradley Central (12-0) at BCHS. Opening kickoff of this state quarterfinal showdown, with the Dawgs (9-3) looking to avenge a 46-14 beatdown by the Bears in the final regular season game Friday, Oct. 27, is 7 p.m., EDT, Friday night, Nov. 16.
Other BHS-JCHS details
With Jefferson County’s two big offensive plays long touchdown runs by senior standout running back Omarian Mills: a 72-yard burst up the middle on the Patriots’ second play from scrimmage, and his 71-yard run down the left sideline on the second play of the third quarter, was about all the offense the home team provided — until the final 8:47 of the game.
“He was a beast, he was a hard runner; he wouldn’t go down on the first hit,” BHS junior linebacker Kai Ironside said of Mills. “He was elusive and (hitting) the tight holes in space, he was good.”
“When I was tackling him, I can tell you, he would hit me like a dump truck,” said Boston Yeager, Bearden junior defensive lineman who had a handful of big stops during the game. “I really had to give my all to even tackle him.”
Bearden actually looked ready to go up 30-20, with a first-and-goal at the JCHS 9 and reaching the Patriots 4 before the second of two almost fatal interceptions. A sideline pass was picked off and returned to the Jeff County 44, but a sideline violation moved it back to the 29, at the 8:47 mark.
With under four minutes to play, the Patriots converted a 4th-and-10 pass at the Bulldogs 43, with sophomore quarterback Mason Henderson chased out the pocket to his right before throwing to the middle of the field to a wide open Shawn Jackson, which eventually landed JCHS at the Bearden 20.
Jackson had changed the game’s momentum midway into the second quarter as a defensive back with his 41-yard “pick six” that tied the game 13-13 at the five-minute mark of the first half.
An 11-yard Mills run placed the home team at the BHS 9 with under three minutes to play.
Holding Mills to 5 yards on two carries, Bearden stopped Henderson’s bootleg roll-and-pass to the right, breaking up a potential game-winning TD toss at the goal line.
But the Patriots had a big foot problem on fourth down, as the JCHS kicker missed a 21-yard tying field goal attempt with 1:30 remaining.
“Man, our defensive players, they’ve played incredibly well all year,” Jones said. “Our defensive staff does such a good job coaching those guys hard, preparing those guys throughout the week. The kids just played so hard with so much effort.
“… They got some runs and that team is really good at running the ball,” he added. “Their run game is about as good as you get in high school football.”
About the late stand, “It just shows a team coming together in a big moment,” Ironside said about his defense.
Bearden needed just one first down to, at least apparently, run out the clock and win. Sophomore running back sensation Jayzon Thompson, who scored on a 2-yard run in the second quarter, went 25 yards to his left for a first down at the BHS that should have sealed the victory.
But a mix-up concerning the snapping of the ball left more time on the clock than there needed to be, Jones said after the game, and on fourth down and the final few seconds ticking down, the Bulldogs took a knee before time ran out.
Jefferson County suddenly had 2.3 seconds and one play to go 28 yards and win the game — turning down a 45-yard field goal that, if made, would force overtime.
However, Bulldogs senior defensive back Sam Tummins intercepted the “Hail Mary” toss into the end zone, allowing Bearden fans, players and coaches to exhale in relief.
“We knew it was going to be a battle all night coming in, and then we got it done,” Tummins said. “We made more plays than they did. We shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times, as you could see in the last 10 seconds.
“But then we came out as a champ,” he added.
“We sure know how to make it entertaining,” Jones told the team after the game.
About his Bulldogs, “They’re so resilient, they just keep believing,” Jones said to the media after the game. “We’ve got to learn to play a little cleaner football. I’ve got to do a better job preparing us in that and coaching a little bit better. But man, our kids, they’re just so resilient, man. They just battle and compete their guts out.
“It wasn’t always pretty tonight, but in the 6A playoffs, you take a win anyway you can get it,” he added.
Bearden’s first touchdown came on a 2-yard run by freshman running back Paxton Parrott, coming with 52 seconds left in the first quarter and following a 20-yard scramble on second-and-19 at the JCHS 24 by junior quarterback Drew Parrott.
It was Drew Parrott’s 69-yard scoring pass deep to sophomore receiver/kick returner Tory Beaufort, also happening after being backed up (third-and-14), that gave the Bulldogs a 20-13 lead with 3:02 left in the first half.
Patriots head coach Spencer Riley, whose Region 1-6A champs finish the season 10-2, said about BHS, “They’ve got a bunch of great athletes and they do a good job in the offensive line and with their defensive front.”
As for the rematch at Bradley, “I mean, those guys are really good, but so are we,” Jones said. “… We’re excited just to still be playing.”
Breaking down what happened Oct. 27, “They probably played their A game. … We probably brought our C-minus game, and we found out first-hand, our C-minus game ain’t going to cut it versus Bradley,” Jones said.
“ … They are athletically gifted and they play really hard,” he added. “That’s a rough combination.
“But we know without a doubt we can play with those guys. It’s going to be a tough task, but we feel very confident.”