The Lenoir City High School Panthers entered Friday’s game against the Soddy Daisy High School Trojans with hopes of winning their third straight Region 4-5A opening game in three years.
However, LCHS head football coach Jeff Cortez knew his team was in for a long night early in the first quarter when the Trojans capitalized on two consecutive turnovers to score two touchdowns in the first two minutes.
“I thought the way we played, especially in that first quarter, we played really tight,” he said. “We had some, ‘Oh crap’ comments on the sideline from coaches ... ‘Oh crap, what are we doing? Oh crap, what was that?’ It was kind of some uncharacteristic actions by some of our players, and to me, it felt like we were tight.”
The Panthers opened the game with a three-play offensive drive before Soddy Daisy’s Gabe Davis leaped up for an interception. Trojans quarterback Isaac Barnes then completed a 40-yard touchdown pass to KeSean Eubanks on the ensuing drive.
“There was no miscommunication there on the first play,” Cortez said. “They were in trips, we’re in Cover 2. We knew, single receiver side, your job is to not get beat deep. There wasn’t any miscommunication on the first play at all. This is the third year we’ve played them ... now they changed up their signs for me, so it took me a second or two to pick up some of them. At the end of the day, it’s still the same stuff. Single receiver side in trips, you’ve got to know it’s going to be a vertical and out.”
Lenoir City’s offensive woes continued on the next drive when the Trojans recovered a fumble on the Panthers’ second play. Two plays later, Barnes connected with Garrett Dent for 41 yards to give the Trojans a 14-0 lead.
The Trojans completed the trifecta before the end of the first quarter when Barnes led a 14-play drive, capped with a 30-yard touchdown pass to All-Region 4-5A running back Hayden Maynor to go up 21-0.
The Panthers entered the game with a 2-0 record against the Trojans since joining Region 4-5A two years ago, which may have created some unwanted pressure.
“We talked about this game,” Cortez said. “We talked about the fact we only had three opportunities in region, and they all matter. We talked a region championship, we talked about home playoff games, and maybe in those discussions, my guys weren’t ready for the stage for which we were set upon. The first quarter happened, and we obviously didn’t respond in the appropriate way and it avalanched there pretty quick.”
The Trojans managed to score four more touchdowns before the Panthers finally put points on the board with a 1-yard run from senior Jackson Huggins.
LCHS linebacker Colby Clark recovered a fumble on the first play of the Trojans’ next offensive drive. From there, the Panthers marched down the field and finished the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run by Josh Mejia to make the final score 49-14.
“The stage was set, the lights were a little too bright and we weren’t quite ready for it,” Cortez said. “I think more than anything else, we kept playing the game, and that’s what we asked them to do. We couldn’t change the first half, but we could definitely affect the first play of the second half and every play after that. The guys kept playing ... I was proud of them for that.”