Greenback School head football coach Greg Ryan knew his team was in for a fight Friday night on the road at Coalfield School.
With playoff implications and bragging rights on the line, the Cherokees overcame a tightly contested first half en route to a 45-20 win against the Region 2-1A No. 1 Yellow Jackets.
But it didn't come easy as the Cherokees gave up 10 penalties for 105 yards.
"We had a really good two weeks of practice, so I don't know that the bye week affected us per se," Ryan said. "I'll say this, obviously we've had too many penalties this year, but with that said, we forewarned the guys about coming to Coalfield. Anytime you go on the road in high school football, you don't know what you're going to get. Because of that, some of the flags and all the things that we talked about, it took some of the emotion away from our guys.
"We don't let our guys taunt other kids or show up anybody, but with that said, we expect them to play with some emotion" he added. "I think they were so scared they were going to get something called on them, they didn't play with much emotion, and because of that, we were a little bit flat. Anytime you can win 45-20, you're still happy."
The majority of the Cherokees' penalties came from dead ball personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct calls, which is something GBS senior receiver Holden Willis admitted the team needs to improve upon.
"We kind of expected it," Willis said. "Last year, the same stuff happened even at our place. They don't play clean, and we were told even in the bye week that it was going to happen, we needed to keep our composure. You never know what's going to happen when people get out here, nerves get in them, aggravation ... stuff like that, we can play better."
The Cherokees got off to a quick start when Willis forced a fumble and Derrell Bailey Jr. recovered the ball on the first play of the game. GBS quarterback Braden Carnes then delivered two quick passes, capped off by a 15-yard touchdown pass to Duke Stinnett.
Greenback failed to convert a two-point attempt to take a 6-0 lead.
Coalfield responded on the ensuing offensive series with a six-play scoring drive led by quarterback Peyton McKinney. However, the Yellow Jackets also missed on a two-point conversion to tie the game at 6-6.
The Cherokees punched right back on their next offensive drive, sparked by a 17-yard run by Willis. Carnes then delivered his second touchdown pass of the night after scrambling to the right and connecting with a wide open Blake Fields for 47 yards to go up 12-6 midway through the first quarter.
Greenback would score its third touchdown of the night — and arguably its most important — when Carnes delivered a quick strike over the middle to Wyatt Rutgerson, who then broke free from two defenders for a 42-yard score to give the Cherokees a 19-6 advantage going into halftime.
"Oh yeah, I absolutely thought I was going to get nailed," Rutgerson said. "I heard the collision right beside me, and I thought ... I wasn't scared, but I was definitely expecting some hit. I just saw some open field, and I ran for it. Great downfield blocking the whole game. I didn't expect everything to be so open, but the blocking was great the whole game — I have to give it to the offensive line and receivers, they did really well all night, so it helped me out a whole lot."
Greenback received the ball to start the second half and made quick work of the opportunity when Rutgerson broke off a 48-yard touchdown run after two plays to push the Cherokees ahead 26-6.
Rutgerson finished the night as the team's leading rusher with 129 yards and a touchdown on seven carries.
"We knew they were running an odd front, which led to holes up in the gaps in A," Rutgerson said. "I felt like the run game was much better tonight, but the blocking was incredible. We had schemed for that the whole time, so it was a really good night for all of us."
Coalfield kept fighting and put together another scoring drive on the ensuing offensive series that was capped off by a 38-yard touchdown pass from McKinney to Daniel Schaar to cut the Cherokees' lead down to 12.
The Cherokees would score again near the end of the third quarter with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Carnes to Stinnett.
Coalfield quickly looked to regain some momentum offensively to start the fourth quarter with a trick pass to McKinney, but Willis leaped up for the interception to set up another scoring drive for the Cherokees.
After starting on their own 20-yard line, Rutgerson charged his way for 55 yards on two straight rushes that led to a jet sweep touchdown run by Willis to extend the lead 38-14.
The Cherokees' final score came on the ensuing offensive possession when Carnes delivered a 70-yard bomb to a streaking Willis. Coalfield managed to score one last touchdown in the final seconds, but it was too late.
Ryan knew the Coalfield secondary was going to key in on Willis, but that led to a more versatile offensive attack from the GBS coaching staff. Stinnett led the team with five receptions, 65 yards and two touchdowns, while Fields and Rutgerson each added a touchdown through the air.
"That was their game plan to play a guy right in Holden's face and create a double team the whole game," Ryan said. "He still got some catches and done his thing, but that's why I challenged the other guys that they needed to step it up so Carnes has the trust of them to where we can be a total offense so teams can't just focus on one guy. I think they're still improving, and Carnes is getting more trust in those guys."
Ryan was also pleased with his defense's ability to contain McKinney to 122 yards and no touchdowns.
"Notoriously, they're an inside run team," he said. "Because we played a lot of 50 defense in the last few weeks, their whole goal was, if you noticed, they sent a lot of motion by the receivers setting the edge and trying to get outside of us, so we made an in-game adjustment and went from a 5-2 to a 5-3, and that helped us a lot."