Gatlinburg-Pittman holds on
In football’s ultimate do-or-die — fourth down, near the goal line, with the game on the line — Gatlinburg-Pittman held.
Then the Highlanders did it again.
“I’m glad that we made it through the game,” said Riley Trotter. “I’m glad we came up to be 2-0.”
Trotter’s Highlanders didn’t score after halftime but they didn’t have to in a 20-14 win over Greenback. The defense frustrated the Cherokees (1-1), stopping them twice in the red zone in the fourth quarter. Trotter capped another stop by recovering a Jordan Anderson fumble on Greenback’s penultimate drive.
“Our defense just answered the bell,” said GP coach Benny Hammonds. “Most of the time it was ragged. We were trying to piece it together with injuries. Sometimes it was just plain sloppy. Other times we played good and we held on by the skin of our teeth here at the goal line.”
Did they ever. After the Highlanders (2-0) went into halftime with a 13-point lead, Anderson — held to a mere 31 yards in the first half — busted off a 58-yard touchdown run to pull Greenback within 20-14. Somehow the Cherokees got no closer.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. Anderson finished with 119 yards, leading Greenback to the Gatlinburg-Pittman 7-yard line before Christian Moore tackled him short. Anderson coughed up the ball into Trotter’s arms the next drive but the Cherokees got the ball back.
This time a lethal passing attack led by quarterback Sam McCloud drove the hosts to the 4-yard line. That’s when McCloud’s final pass fell incomplete.
“Our defense just played phenomenal,” said GP quarterback Tanner Cox. “They just did a good job.”
Cox had a front-row seat after his offense was the story in the first half. Zeke Williams, picking up the slack for an injured Michael Muszik, had 100 yards in the first half before finishing with 116. His 28 yards on two plays following a first-half Anderson fumble set up Cox’s second touchdown run in the first half.
Williams helped on his team’s last score when Jeremy Odom picked up a fumble following the running back’s 17-yard run and ran five more yards for a touchdown.
“I was just putting my nose to the grindstone,” Williams said. “I just kept trucking. Great blocking by my line.”
Williams and Cox didn’t have the same kind of success in the second half, turning the focus to the defense. After Anderson rolled through the defense on the second play of the third quarter, GP tightened. Even when a go-ahead touchdown seemed to be dangling in front of Greenback, the Highlanders held.
“We just didn’t finish drives,” said Greenback coach Justin Hicks. “I don’t know. I probably could’ve put us in better situations.”
On the other side of that razor-thin margin, smiles and relief flooded the faces of Gatlinburg-Pittman’s players.
“We just told everybody to keep their composure,” Trotter said. “Just keep on fighting. … (Anderson) was a little, quick back. He was a little slick, man. But I’m glad we won.”