By Mark Nagi
It was a battle of two East Tennessee rivals with points and yards aplenty on both sides.
But it was one player in particular that stole the show.
Farragut got three touchdown receptions and two hundred total yards of offense out of senior Matt White as they defeated Oak Ridge 45-25 on Thursday, September 10.
“We knew that he is capable of a lot,” said Farragut head coach Eddie Courtney. “We’ve had to put him in different places. But now our quarterback is coming on and our receivers made some plays, which took some pressure off of him. And our offensive line has gotten better, and we were concerned about that.”
The game got off to a terrific start for the visitors. Mitchell Gibbons hit freshman Brandon Hayward on a short pass near the sideline. Hayward made a defender miss, then galloped down that same sideline for a 43-yard score. The game was barely two minutes old, and the Wildcats were up 6-0.
Farragut (2-1) responded with an impressive nine play, 74-yard touchdown drive. They stayed mostly on the ground, but the big play was when Dawson Moore zipped a pass to Matt White, good for 29 yards down to the Oak Ridge six-yard line. Three plays later, Eli Purcell pounded it into the end zone from a yard out, giving Farragut a 7-6 advantage.
The Wildcats didn’t have to break much of a sweat on this steamy night to take the lead right back. A five play, 78-yard drive was finished off when the Gibbons to Hayward combination worked again. Gibbons threw the football into double coverage. Hayward adjusted to the ball, took a hit as he grabbed the football, kept his feet, and finished off a 34-yard touchdown. It was 12-7 Wildcats with 4:39 to go in the first quarter.
The game swung back into Farragut’s favor on their next drive. A 30-yard pass from Moore to White brought the Ads down to the Wildcats six-yard line. Two plays later, Moore hit White on a six-yard hookup, making it 14-12 Farragut, now with 53 seconds left in the first quarter.
Oak Ridge (2-2) converted on a fake punt as Preston Turner ran 26 yards to the Admirals 19. But the Farragut defense kept the Wildcats out of the end zone. Then the Admirals offense kept on clicking. A 39-yard touchdown pass from Moore to (guess who) Matt White put Farragut up 21-12 with 3:30 to go in the first half.
The Wildcats cut into that deficit in the final seconds of the half when Gibbons found Preston Turner for a 15-yard touchdown with 17 seconds to go in the second quarter. The ensuing two-point conversion was no good. Farragut led 21-18 at intermission.
The Admirals accepted the second half kickoff and the offense wasn’t slowing down. They marched 71 yards down the field and eventually Moore ran it in from a yard away. Farragut was up 28-18 with 8:27 remaining in the third quarter.
The Admirals couldn’t keep Oak Ridge out of the end zone as Gibbons scrambled 25 yards for a score, cutting the deficit to 28-25.
But Oak Ridge had a problem. They couldn’t stop Matt White. A 24-yard touchdown reception by White made it 35-25 with 2:37 left in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter the Wildcats drove to the Farragut 20, but turned the football over on downs. Farragut’s defense, under pressure most of the night, held the Wildcats to only seven points in the second half.
“We had to come up with some big stops,” said Courtney. “Their quarterback is better than people give credit. He made some accurate passes. They are a good football team. We have a couple of things we have to clear up in the secondary but that’s doable, fundamental stuff. We’ll be ok.”
The scoring was complete when Farragut’s Schumann Xie broke free from the Wildcats 46-yard line. The ball was popped free at the 10, but took a perfect hop back into Zie’s hands as he crossed the goal line for a touchdown.
The win was a sweet one for Farragut. Not only because it was against their rivals, but because it helped dull the bad taste of a 30-7 loss to West on August 29.
“I made it hard on us the last week and a half,” said Courtney. “We didn’t play like Farragut plays. We got down and dirty with it. I challenged them and they responded. I’m so proud of how they did respond because we had to play well to beat a good Oak Ridge team.”