By Bill Howard
Friday night at home, Central High School built a commanding 34-0 lead over Hardin Valley, surrendered three late touchdowns, but still won easily 41-21 in a non-region game. For three quarters the Bobcats were efficient on offense and fearsome on defense.
With the win Central improved to 3-2; the Hawks are still looking for their first win after five games.
Central’s coach Nick Craney didn’t focus on the late surge by HV.
“It was good, it was good all the way through,” he said. “We were playing a lot of young guys there in the end. It’s part of a learning curve. We were subbing most of the second half and all of the fourth quarter. We’re not gonna be frustrated about that, we’re gonna be happy about the 41 we put up.”
“Little bit too little too late,” said Hawks’ coach Mike Potter. “The first half we didn’t come out to play. Second half we told them ‘don’t quit, it’s zero-zero right now, let’s play like the start of the game.”
Central built a 21-0 halftime lead by scoring on the final three of its four possessions, and on its first possession, it was stopped on fourth down on HV’s one yard-line.
Taking over on its own 34 early in the second period, the Bobcats drove 66 yards on seven plays for a touchdown. The score came when workhorse running back Frank Johnson III plowed in from the three.
After forcing a quick three-and-out, Central started on its own 42 with 7:03 left in the half. On the tenth play, Shannon Mills, the other half of the Cats’ one-two running punch, took it in from the four, and the Bobcats led 14-0.
In the first half, Johnson and Mills gained 121 yards on 19 carries.
“Frank Johnson and Shannon Mills, they both do a great job,” said Craney. “We did a good job blocking for them all night, opening up some holes, completing the passes we needed to when the opportunities were there.”
Central’s first-half defense was every bit as good. For the half, Hardin Valley ran 25 plays and gained a mere 26 yards. The numbers for three quarters: 41 plays for 67 yards.
“We’ve been challenging our defense to be more physical, to identify what they’re supposed to identify and to attack, and we really came out and did that tonight for three quarters,” Craney said.”The first and second groups were pretty dominant.”
When all-purpose receiver Will Siaway returned a punt 48 yards to the HV six late in the half, Johnson made it 21-0 when he plowed in from the four. The half ended at that score.
“I didn’t think our kids were ready to come out and play,” said Potter. “They got a little shell-shocked early and it took a little time to regroup.”
When the Hawks fumbled the second-half kickoff, the Bobcats needed one play to make it 27-0, a 27-yard strike from quarterback Ryan Bolton to Siaway.
“The pass game was good all the way through,” said Craney. “Other than one bad decision (an interception by the Hawks’ Luca Moro with 3:20 left in the third), Ryan made good throws.”
HV continued to struggle on offense through the third period. Four possessions yielded a single first down.
Central made it 34-0 when Johnson ran 11 straight times – every play on the drive – and scored from the one.
Hardin Valley finally came to life offensively, albeit way too late. With 2:25 left in the game, backup quarterback Hayden Bryant hit Dolan Walker for a 24-yard score. Two more late touchdowns made the final score seem closer than it was.
“Central’s got some very good football players,” said Potter. “I’m proud of our kids for fighting to the end. We’ll put a game plan together and go fight Farragut.” HV hosts the Admirals Friday night in a matchup of Region 2-6A rivals.
The Bobcats host Cocke Co. Friday in an important Region 2-5A game. Central is currently 2-0 in the region.
“They’ve (Cocke Co.) got some athletes that can make plays,” Craney said. “It’s gonna be a good challenge for us. We’re getting better every week, that’s what we challenge our guys to do.”