Football teams for Lenoir City High and Greenback schools lost region games away from home Friday.
In Region 3-5A, the Panthers fell 33-13 to Oak Ridge High School, while the Cherokees suffered a 21-0 reverse to Oliver Springs High School in Region 2-1A.
For Lenoir City, it was the second region loss in as many games. Unlike the first game, which ended 27-23 to Campbell County with a fourth-quarter touchdown, this one was less of a contest.
“It was a tough, physical game,” Gary Dugger, LCHS head football coach, said. “Overall, I think we played hard, we just didn’t take advantage of opportunities we had.”
Oak Ridge took the lead on their first offensive snap with a 40-yard touchdown run, but Lenoir City immediately responded with a touchdown of their own.
Junior running back Tristan Carino raced 62 yards for the score, but the two-point conversion was no good to leave the Panthers trailing 7-6 just over four minutes into the game.
The Panthers did not record another touchdown until the end of the third quarter, when junior linebacker Keller Cooper returned a fumble 84 yards into the end zone. By then, Oak Ridge had already added three touchdowns of their own to make it 27-13.
“They’re extremely athletic, they put a lot of pressure on you and they're going to score for the most part when they have the ball,” Dugger said. “You have to match them, because you get down three, four scores, and our offense isn’t built to be in a shootout.”
The offense was hindered by injuries to key players.
Junior running back Trey Wilhite, who has been one of the Panthers’ most reliable players this season, was unavailable ahead of the game. The only player on the team with more rushing yards than Wilhite has been senior running back Chris McCord, who has done the brunt of the ball carrying all season. He had to exit the game at halftime after taking a big hit.
Without their two main men, the Panthers struggled for yardage. While both touchdowns came from big plays, Dugger said it highlighted an issue the team has struggled with all season.
“We have to be able to sustain drives and pick up first downs, we can’t only hit on big plays,” he said. “But that kind of has been the downfall of our offense so far is we’re not able to sustain drives because we miss assignments. … Skill guys haven’t necessarily blown the assignments, it’s been more up front. Which is kind of bothersome is a sense that we’ve got three seniors up front that we feel are leaders for our program and we just can’t seem to stop shooting ourselves in the foot up there.”
The hosts added a final touchdown two minutes from time, though the extra point failed, to end the game 33-13.
Lenoir City now sits at 1-4 for the season and 0-2 in region play and will need to quickly turn things around if they are to maintain any playoff aspirations. The Panthers have a bye week before their next two games, both of them region matchups, and Dugger said they would make the most of the extra prep time.
“No. 1, you got to get everyone healthy, that’s going to be important,” he said. “But then from there, we’re going to look to do some personnel changes, kind of moving guys to different spots and really just fine-tuning what we’re trying to do. … I think you really focus on the fundamentals, you clean up assignments and you get people healthy for the stretch.”
Lenoir City will return to the field at 7 p.m. Sept. 30 when they host Karns High School.
Turnovers doom Greenback
Greenback traveled to Oliver Springs looking to build on an opening region win against Sunbright School, but caused their own demise through a number of turnovers.
“I think they’re a good team and we didn’t play very well on our part,” Ethan Edmiston, Greenback head football coach, said. “In a region game, you got to come to play and play your best game. … First half, we had three fumbles and an interception, so we just had a rough night with all the turnovers.”
Both teams had a fruitless possession early on, but on Greenback's second drive the problems started. Junior wide receiver Connor James fumbled the ball to give the hosts possession, which was promptly converted for the first touchdown of the game.
The first fumble was just the beginning.
Junior running back Landon Clifford fumbled on the next possession. Junior quarterback Caden Lawson made up for the play by catching an interception, but the Cherokees soon punted the ball back after making little progress.
Oliver Springs scored a second touchdown, and history repeated itself as the Cherokees again fumbled while looking to respond to the setback. Though they prevented a third score, Greenback's final drive of the half ended just as poorly as the previous ones when Lawson threw an interception.
“It just seemed like we would have a couple of good plays and then we would have a turnover,” Edmiston said. “We just kept making mistakes as far as not protecting the ball, so that was the big thing for us.”
At the half, the Cherokees trailed 14-0.
The turnover rate slowed after a break, but Greenback could not get the decisive play to put the ball in the end zone. Freshman quarterback Madden McNeil came in to shake things up, but it made no difference on the scoreboard. Though the Cherokees had their best drive of the game, neither team scored in the third quarter.
The Cherokees entered the red zone at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but McNeil threw an interception for Greenback's fifth turnover of the night. Oliver Springs ran down the clock with a subsequent drive as a slow and methodical advance gave the hosts their third touchdown with just over two minutes remaining.
Greenback turned their final drive over on downs as Oliver Springs ran out 21-0 winners.
"(We have to) just put this game behind us,” Edmiston said. “Fix the turnovers, the fumbles, the interceptions. We got to protect the ball, got to play smart, execute and come ready to play every single week because from here on out you’re fighting for playoffs, you’re fighting for a seed, seeing where you end up in the region.”
The Cherokees will be back in action at 7:30 p.m. Friday when they travel to cross-country rivals Loudon High School for their final non-region matchup of the year. A bye week is then followed by four consecutive region games to close out the regular season.