West pulls out 14-10 win over Bearden

By Steve Williams

It wasn’t a Hail Mary, but it was just as thrilling.

With time running out, West quarterback Hunter Dance and wide receiver Syxx Hoard hooked up for a 45-yard go-ahead touchdown pass with 17.4 seconds remaining that held up for a 14-10 season opening win over Bearden Saturday at sun-splashed Bill Wilson Field.

“When the ball was in the air, I knew it was just me and the defender,” said Syxx (pronounced six). “When the ball touched my hands there was just a lot going through my head because I saw the defender on the ground.”

At that point in the play, Hoard made the catch at the 5-yard line and then bobbled the ball. “Soon as I got it together, I pulled the ball in and scored,” he said.

The 6-1, 191-pound Dance said: “Syxx Hoard (5-7, 150) is a really good player for us. We had him on a corner post right up the middle to try to split the field. He ran a perfect route and got open. I just try to get him the ball and let him do what he does and he scored. I think he bobbled it just a little bit, but he came down with it, so I’m proud of him.”

After the ensuing kickoff return to its 35-yard line, Bearden was in desperation mode. Junior quarterback Drew Parrott completed a 5-yard pass to the 40 and the Bulldogs called their last timeout with only 5.7 seconds left. Parrott’s last pass was intercepted by Ryan Scott, the Rebels’ All-State inside linebacker, at the West 45. Scott almost turned the play into a Pick Six, but was bumped out of bounds at the Bearden 4-yard line.

West players and students poured onto the field to celebrate.

The victory was the 16th in a row for the Rebels, who went 15-0 on their way to the Class 5A state title last season.

Saturday’s televised game started a few minutes after 12 noon. The stands on both sides of the field were pretty much full. The temperature was 86 degrees when the contest ended.

Bearden jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. Daniel Kinney kicked a 43-yard field goal on the Bulldogs’ opening possession.

West’s first possession ended with Jones Bollig’s punt being blocked by Bearden senior Cody Clough and set up shop for the Bulldogs at the West 40.

On Bearden’s second play, senior running back Jaheim Merriweather (6-2, 205) ran through a big hole on the right side of the line and went 40 yards to score and up the Bulldogs’ lead to 10-0 with 4:50 on the first quarter clock.

Things could have gotten worse when West went for a first down on fourth-and-one at its 29-yard line and didn’t make it. But the Rebels’ tough defense didn’t allow Bearden to capitalize on the field possession.

West tried to put points on the board later in the second quarter but Patrick Schmid missed wide right on a 33-yard field goal attempt.

The Rebels’ offense finally put together an 88-yard drive that ended with its first touchdown early in the fourth quarter. A key first down conversion was Marshaun Bowers picking up six yards on fourth-and-three at the Bearden 14. Bowers powered his way into paydirt on the next play. His TD and Schmid’s PAT kick shaved the Bearden lead to 10-7.

The Bulldogs put an 11-play drive together, but it fizzled out at the West 19.

“I think everybody that was here got to watch a football team start growing up today,” said West Coach Lamar Brown. “Early on our team had opportunities and just kept shooting themselves in the foot and the defense gives up a big run. But you could see growth throughout the game.”

Josh Jones complimented both teams’ defense, but summed up by saying: “You’re not going to keep a team with them kind of athletes scoreless, so we were fooling ourselves thinking 10 points was going to win it. You’ve got to score more than 10 to win a ball game.”

West’s next game will be at Clinton Friday night. Bearden will have another tough road test at Alcoa.

JUST LIKE BROTHER: Hunter Dance did something Saturday his older brother Baker once did on the same field and that was throw a late touchdown pass to beat Bearden. In 2019, Baker Dance threw a TD pass in overtime to turn back the Bulldogs for the first win in the Rebels’ current five-game win streak over their Kingston Pike rivals.