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The old General Neyland maxim about special teams proved to be the difference in the game Thursday night between the Sunbright Tigers and the Midway Middle School Green Waves as Sunbright’s Skyler Bunch 70-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and ensuing two-point conversion was enough to give the Tigers an 8-6 win.
“We both played really hard and we both played a great game,” Midway head coach Gabe Patterson said. “They're a good, hard-hitting team and we're getting better. We hung right with them the whole game."
Midway went three-and-out on their first offensive series and the Tigers got all the way to the Midway 2 yard line before being turned back on fourth down by the "Gang-Green" defense to end the first quarter tied at 0-0.
Midway managed to move the chains a couple of times on their next drive before punting the ball away and Sunbright failed to pick up a first down before punting it back to the Waves.
Midway managed to get deep into Sunbright territory on the final play of the half before the halftime horn rang with the score knotted up at 0-0.
Sunbright went three-and-out on their next series, punting the ball to the boys from South of the River. Seven plays and 51 yards later, Jason Gaus scored a 26-yard touchdown run for the Waves right through the heart of the Tiger defense.
Bunch made a pivotal stop for the Tigers on the two-point conversion to leave the score 6-0 with 3:16 to go in the third quarter.
Sunbright, however, answered with a 70-yard kickoff return by Bunch. Bunch then plowed in the two-point play to give the Tigers an 8-6 lead with 3:04 left in the third quarter.
Both teams traded punts to end the third quarter with Sunbright leading, 8-6.
Both teams failed to pick up a first down on either drive each team had in the final period, and after a last-ditch Midway pass fell short, the Tigers took a knee to lock up the 8-6 win.
Midway out gained the Tigers in total yards 105-75 with the Tigers winning on the ground, 82-76, but losing through the air 29-(-7).
Bunch (12-45) and John Martin Stephens (12-37) led the Tigers on the ground and Bunch (13 tackles) and Stephens (5 tackles) also led the defense.
Ethan Northrup (1 INT) had a great defensive game for the Tigers.
Midway was led through the air by Zach Hearon (1-4, 32 yards, 1 INT) and on the ground by Jason Gaud (3-39-1 TD).
Zach Edwards (1-32) led the Waves in receiving while Ethan Crabtree (6 tackles) and Jermiah Teague (5 tackles) led the defense.
"We played really well tonight,” Patterson said. "We controlled their offense other than that first drive, but we got a big goal-line stand there. Our defense played great, but we broke down a bit on that kick-off return, but that's just how football is.”
Next up for the Waves is a big rivalry game with Cherokee at Midway.
“We've got to get ready for Cherokee. They're good and they've got a lot of players. We just need to go look at film and have a good week of practice," Patterson said.