Gatlinburg-Pittman eyes first win against Austin-East
Surely, this is the year.
Finally, Gatlinburg-Pittman can get that elusive win against Austin-East, right? The Roadrunners have won just one of their first six games.
But the Highlanders have heard this story before. A six-loss Austin-East team beat G-P last year with a second-half comeback. When, like coach Benny Hammonds, you’ve lost eight straight to Austin-East, no lead is big enough.
“We didn’t get it done. We didn’t finish the job last year,” Hammonds said. “With a team with that much speed or talent, even (if) you’re ahead three or four touchdowns, you can’t relax on a team like that.”
Hammonds will try again to beat the Roadrunners tonight. The game airs on WVLT’s Rivalry Thursday. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. in Gatlinburg.
Whatever kind of season Austin-East is having, the Roadrunners (1-5) always manage to sneak their way past G-P (5-1).
“It really didn’t go our way (last year),” said Highlanders senior Spencer Brien. “We kind of laid down that second half and that’s not G-P football. It was a learning lesson, though.”
Brien and his teammates know even with five losses, Austin-East is still a tough out. Four of those losses came to teams in this week’s AP poll, including two No. 1s.
“They’ve always got good teams, year-in and year-out,” said G-P quarterback Tanner Cox. “We’ve just got to stop their speed.”
The Highlanders have already been burned by one speedy Knoxville power in a blowout loss to Fulton two weeks ago. Cox said that was a lesson in the importance of establishing the passing game to keep the heat off his tailbacks.
The quarterback emphasized the importance of showing what he can do through the air two weeks ago and he reiterated it after practice on Tuesday. He said it’s something the team has focused on after gaining just 83 yards passing against the Falcons.
The good news is G-P appears to have a fully healthy backfield to give the Highlanders multiple options. Michael Muszik said both he and Zeke Williams, who missed that loss to Fulton, are feeling good. The duo combined with Brien and Cox to rack up 115 rushing yards last week in a win over Cumberland Gap.
“It feels really good to have someone take the reps off you when you’re going both ways,” Muszik said. “Both of us go both ways. ... I can make more plays on defense.”
Hammonds would love to see big nights on both sides of the ball from his stars. They have the opportunity to snap one of the Highlanders’ biggest skids.
Hammonds told his team a story this week about the 1982 Gatlinburg-Pittman team turning the tables on Webb after the Knoxville school had outscored the Highlanders 97-0 over the previous three seasons. That year the Highlanders won 39-0.
That kind of score tonight would be one of the sweeter victories G-P has celebrated.
“It really makes us want to do it for coach Hammonds,” Muszik said. “And all the other coaches, to get the first win over Austin-East.”