Bearden advances, beats Jefferson County 23-20

By Mark Nagi

The Bearden Bulldogs expected a battle in the second round of the playoffs. After all, the Jefferson County Patriots were 10-1, and won the Region 1-6A title this year.

In a very competitive game in Dandridge, the Bulldogs got a clutch field goal from Daniel Kinney and hung on for a 23-20 victory. The win puts Bearden into the state quarterfinals.

“Jeff County is a tough team,” said Bearden head coach Josh Jones. “Big team, physical team, Coach (Spencer) Riley and his staff have done a really good job with this group. This was a good, hard nosed football game and we were fortunate enough to make one more kick than they did.”

The game did not get off to an ideal start for Bearden. Patriots running back Omarian Mills sprinted 72 yards through the middle of the Bulldogs defense on Jefferson County’s opening drive. Only three minutes into the game, Bearden trailed 7-0.

At the end of the first quarter, Bearden got on the scoreboard with a short TD run, making it 7-6. The extra point attempt was blocked, which kept the Bulldogs from tying the game.

In the second quarter, Bearden running back Jayzon Thompson scored on a 1-yard TD run. This time the extra point was good, and it was 13-7 Bulldogs.

It looked like Bearden was in control of the game, but Drew Parrott’s pass floated into the hands of Jefferson County defensive back Shawn Jackson, who returned it 36 yards for a touchdown. Their extra point attempt was no good, and the game was tied at 13.

But Parrott immediately responded from that adversity. On Bearden’s next drive he launched a pass downfield to Troy Beaufort, who broke a tackle at the Jefferson County 35, and ran the rest of the way for a 63-yard touchdown.

An entertaining first half finished with Bearden leading 20-13.

But on the second play of the second half, Mills again broken a huge touchdown run for the Pats, this time taking it home 81 yards. That tied the game at 20.

Late in the third quarter came perhaps the biggest play of the game as Daniel Kinney lined up for a 50-yard field goal attempt for Bearden. That’s a long way to kick a football, especially on a cold East Tennessee night. But Kinney drilled it through the uprights, and Bearden was back on top 23-20.

In the fourth quarter Bearden (9-3) was driving for another score when Parrott was picked off by Pats linebacker Emmitt Newman at the Jefferson County 5-yard line.

“We have to find a way to be more consistent on offense,” said Jones. “We had some good drives, but we have to finish more drives and that starts with me. I’ve gotta find better ways to coach them.”

The Pats had one final drive in which they could have tied or gotten the go ahead score. They converted on two fourth downs and got the football down inside the Bearden 5-yard line. But a field goal attempt hit the upright with 1:30 to go.

Some shaky clock management gave Jefferson County one last chance at winning the game with one snap from the Bulldogs 28-yard line with three seconds left. But a hail mary pass was intercepted in the end zone as the clock struck zero, giving Bearden the stress-filled victory.

“Coming out of spring ball we felt like we had a good football team,” said Jones. “But with such a tough schedule we didn’t know what it would equate to in terms of wins and losses. But it isn’t a shock to us that we are still playing in the quarterfinals. We have good players and good players will win you ballgames.”

Next week the Bulldogs hit the road to face top-ranked Bradley Central, a team they lost to 46-14 in the final week of the regular season. That win gave the Bears the region title.

“We will turn the page and try to come up with a good plan and go down and play against a really good team and see what we can do,” said Jones.