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When the Rockwood Tigers dropped a 17-10 decision at Greenback in their District 3-A opener in week two of the regular season, hardly anyone believed the Tigers would be sitting atop the District 3-A standings at the end of the season.
But the Tigers (7-3) did the improbable, as John Webb’s squad won their final four district contests with the icing on the cake coming Friday night in the form of a 34-12 victory over Harriman (5-5) in what was the 91st meeting between the state’s longest running consecutive rivalry.
“This feels great, it absolutely does,” Tiger head coach John Webb said following the victory. “Nobody gave us a chance after losing our first district game.”
Halftime adjustments were the key to Friday’s victory as the Tigers led just 14-12 at intermission, but were out gained in total yardage, 227-148. In the second half, however, Rockwood dominated in yardage and on the scoreboard as the Tigers out gained the Blue Devils 224-113 in the final 12 minutes of play.
Fifty of Harriman’s yards came on the final drive of the night with both teams playing mostly reserves.
“Their middle linebacker (Cole McAbee) was killing us in the first half,” Webb said. “We had to change our blocking schemes, but we were able to do that and our backs were running hard in the second half.
“Defensively, Coach (Jeff) Allen was able to make some changes and were did a better job of making plays in the second half.”
“We just couldn’t stop ‘em in the second half,” Harriman head coach Travis Tapp added. “We ran the ball well in the first half and I thought we were doing a good job in the second half, but we had a couple of penalties that took us out of what we wanted to do.
“But I’m proud of our kids because they played awfully hard tonight.”
Harriman’s ground game was the story in the early going as the Devils needed only two plays to cover 55 yards and score the game’s first touchdown. Brandon Williams ran for 11 yards on the first play of the game then Dimitrique Inman went the final 44 yards on the next play for the score.
With kicker Tyler Dishman injured, Harriman’s two-point try was no good, leaving the score 6-0 just 34 seconds into the contest.
Rockwood, however, came right back as the Tigers drove 55 yards in four plays. Lucas Jolley opened the drive by firing a 52-yard pass to Cameron Webster then Josh Boles capped the drive three plays later with a one yard run.
Jared Breazeale added the PAT to make the score 7-6 with 9:36 left in the first period.
After an exchange of punts, Harriman regained the lead after a 7-play, 69-yard drive that ended with Lucas Lunsford scoring from 11 yards out.
Harriman’s two-point try was again no good, leaving the score 12-7 with 1:59 left in the first quarter.
Rockwood answered again, however, as this time the Tigers put together a 7-play, 56-yard scoring drive that ended in a one yard pass from Jolley to Dillon Deardorff that made the score 14-12 with 10:49 left in the first half.
Deardorff set up the score with a 44-yard run.
Both teams punted again on their next possession, but the half would end with the Devils putting together one last solid drive.
Starting from their own 10, the one-two punch of Inman and Williams took turns pounding the Tiger defense as Harriman pushed the ball inside the Tiger 20.
But with time running low, the Devils had to go to the air and back-to-back incomplete passes would allow the Tigers to take the two-point lead into the locker room at halftime.
“That was huge,” Webb said of keeping the lead at halftime. “I made some silly mistakes on play calling in the second quarter, but to hold them out right there and keep the momentum was big.”
Rockwood never let go of that momentum as the Tigers scored touchdowns on each of their first three possessions of the second half.
The first scoring drive lasted 11 plays and covered 68 yards with Jolley finding a wide open Ethan Headrick from 13 yards out for the score.
Headrick was filling in for an injured Deardorff and carried five times for 44 yards in the drive.
Breazeale added the PAT to give the Tigers a 21-12 lead with 7:04 left in the third quarter.
Rockwood’s second scoring drive lasted seven plays and covered 56 yards. The Tigers kept the ball on the ground all seven plays before Boles scored from one yard out to make the score 27-12 with 17.8 seconds left in the third quarter.
Breazeale’s PAT was blocked.
Rockwood put the game away on their next possession as they again kept the ball on the ground for seven straight plays. This drive ended with Headrick scoring from one yard out to make the score 34-12 with 8:02 left to play.
With the victory, Rockwood wrapped up the No. 3 seed in quad 1 of the upcoming TSSAA Class AA playoffs and the Tigers will host No. 6 seed Oliver Springs (6-4) Friday night in the first round of the playoffs.
“There were so many scenarios out there that we haven’t looked ahead at anybody yet,” Coach Webb said. “I know Oliver Springs is a good team with several good athletes. But anybody you play now is a good team. We’re just going to have to stay focused an play hard.”
Harriman’s season is still alive despite the loss. The Devils open the playoffs as the No. 6 seed in quad 1 of the upcoming TSSAA Class A playoffs and the Blue Devils open postseason play Friday night at Copper Basin (8-1).
“I haven’t seen Copper Basin, but I know they were ranked No. 2 in the state this week and they’ve given up just 47 points all year,” Tapp said. “I know we’ll have to play our best game of the year if we want to win.”
Rushing- Williams 21-131, Inman 8-86 with 1 TD, Lunsford 7-23 with 1 TD, Chesser 5-2, McAbee 4-15, Hendrickson 5-49, Headrick 1-1.
Passing- Chesser 2-6 for 33 yards.
Receiving- Crass 1-4, Martin 1-29.
Rushing- Smith 13-82, Deardorff 3-43, Campbell 7-42, Boles 5-27 with 2 TDs, Jolley 3-(-5), Headrick 5-55 with 1 TD, Breazeale 5-35, Skidmore 1-3, Team 2-(-5).
Passing- Jolley 5-9 for 95 yards with 2 TDs.
Receiving- Webster 2-79, Campbell 1-2, Deardorff 1-1 with 1 TD, Headrick 1-13 with 1 TD.