By Steve Williams
Powell didn’t win the Region 3-5A championship Friday night, but it felt like it.
The talented Panthers ran off and left Oak Ridge 38-7 at historic Blankenship Field to move a giant step closer to the title.
With the victory, Powell is now alone atop the standings with a 3-0 record and 6-1 overall mark. The Panthers travel to Campbell County for another cat fight Friday. The Cougars are 2-1 in region play and 6-1 overall after winning 14-6 at Clinton in Week 7.
Oak Ridge (2-1, 2-4) goes to unbeaten Greeneville Friday.
“What was so impressive to me, it wasn’t one, two or three guys that made plays out here tonight,” said Powell Head Coach Matt Lowe. “There were 20 to 25 guys on this roster that made a big play. All the things you’re hoping to see as a football coach, we got to see by a lot of kids.”
Powell junior quarterback Jordyn Potts threw four touchdown passes, including two to senior running back Jarvis Stockton and one each to junior receiver Ayden Greene and senior receiver Jayden Collins.
But the Panthers’ biggest touchdown surprised a lot of fans and even put a smile on big Walter Nolen’s face after the game.
It came in the second quarter with the scored tied 7-7 and the football on the Oak Ridge 2-yard line.
During a timeout, the Powell coaching staff put the 6-5, 310-pound Nolen in the offensive backfield and on first-and-goal, he plowed in and stretched the ball over the goal line for the go-ahead touchdown, a la the days of William “The Refrigerator” Perry and Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears in 1986.
After the game, Walter smiled and said he didn’t mind to have that nickname.
Greene’s 6-yard catch late in the first quarter had given Powell a 7-0 lead. Oak Ridge got even midway in the second quarter on Jayden Williams’ 75-yard interception return and Efrain Rodriquez’ PAT kick.
After Nolen’s touchdown, Stockton added a 5-yard TD reception with 21.8 seconds left in the half to increase Powell’s advantage to 21-7. An interception by J.J. Foust at the Oak Ridge 38 had put the Panthers in scoring position.
The Wildcats went to the dressing room, having made only one first down. They finished with five in the game against the smothering and opportunistic Powell defense.
Dylan Stooksbury kicked a 40-yard field goal to make it 24-7 midway through the third quarter.
Another interception and runback to the Oak Ridge 14 by Foust set up Stockton’s second TD catch and it was 31-7.
After Conner Wheeler’s interception early in the fourth quarter, Potts kept the ball and gained 21 yards plus Oak Ridge was penalized for a personal foul, moving the ball to the Wildcats’ 32. Collins caught his 19-yard touchdown pass three plays later with 9:34 on the clock.
Oak Ridge replaced quarterback Hayden Tarwater with backup Nehemiah Elmore and Powell soon let its subs mop up.
Veteran OR Coach Joe Gaddis said the difference in the game was “our inability to move the ball offensively. Our defense actually played pretty good. We just kept our defense on the field too long.”
Gaddis also pointed out a 44-yard pass to Adarius Redmond on third-and-23 that moved Powell to the OR 16 prior to Nolen’s touchdown and Foust’s interception late in the half were “huge plays” that went against his team.
Gaddis complimented Powell’s front on both sides of the ball. “But their defensive front is the biggest difference in this team and last year’s team,” he said. “They’ve got more than Nolen over there. They’ve got a great defensive front and great athletes in the secondary. A combination of a lot of speed and big, dominant linemen on defense.”