Pigeon Forge holds on against Claiborne
The Pigeon Forge Tigers took the early momentum, won the third quarter battle and then hung on by the skin of their teeth to take a heart-stopping 27-26 homecoming win over visiting Claiborne County on Friday night at Jim Whaley Field.
“We played not-to-lose instead of going ahead and trying to win,” said Pigeon Forge coach Scott Meadows. “We didn’t play real smart in the second half. I didn’t call a real good second half offensively and in the second half, I just think we were trying to not lose the ball game instead of going ahead and winning the ball game.”
The Tigers (5-4) led 27-6 heading into the fourth quarter after the teams used nearly all of the third quarter clock on just a possession each. The Tigers came out on top 7-0 in the third, but the fourth period belonged to the Bulldogs (3-5).
The biggest play of the night came after Claiborne scored with 18.2 seconds remaining when junior quarterback Dalton Lee connected with junior receiver Dylan Lee on an 18-yard TD pass caught inside the 5 and taken the rest of the way over a flattened Pigeon Forge defender at the 2.
The Bulldogs went for the win when Lee took a quarterback sweep right on the two-point try, but Pigeon Forge senior Devin Boyd sniffed it out and laid a lick on Lee at the line of scrimmage, followed by a host of Tiger defenders.
Pigeon Forge senior lineman Tyler Watts held onto the ensuing onside kick attempt, securing the Tiger victory in the process.
Overshadowed by the fourth-quarter finish was the fact that the Tigers virtually assured themselves a postseason berth with the one-point win.
Although they looked shaky at times, Pigeon Forge used the third quarter to secure seeming control of the contest.
Trailing 21-6, the Bulldogs looked to make it a single-possession game with the opening possession of the second half.
Claiborne ate up nearly five minutes off the clock with a 12-play drive, but the Tiger defense eventually held firm and forced the Bulldogs into a turnover-on-downs at the Pigeon Forge 8.
Five plays later and Pigeon Forge sophomore Noah Whaley broke free for 74 yards up the gut to the Claiborne 1, but the play was called back for a block in the back and unsportsmanlike penalties against the Tigers.
But in the end it didn’t matter, because Pigeon Forge marched the remaining 55 yards on seven plays after the flags. Senior Chris Rasberry capped the drive with a two-yard score for a 27-6 lead with just 1:39 in the third remaining.
Claiborne’s Lee cut it to 27-14 with a seven-yard scoring run and a two-point pass to Dylan Lee with 9:59 left in regulation.
But Pigeon Forge junior Christian Sisto survived a crushing hit and came up big on the ensuing onside kick, allowing the Tigers to eat up some game clock with a drive from midfield.
Dylan Lee scored an apparent cosmetic TD with a five-yard run that cut it to 27-20 with 3:23 left.
First-year Pigeon Forge senior (and state champion standout baseball player) Scott LaFollette fielded the ensuing pooch kick like an outfielder making an over-the-shoulder catch at the 39.
But the Tiger offense followed with a 3-and-out punt with 2:09 to go.
Claiborne then came through with the eight-play, 71-yard scoring drive that made it the eventual one-point final.
The Tigers drew first blood in the contest.
After junior Chase Effler returned the opening kick to near midfield and Whaley sprinted 16 yards up the gut on the first snap from scrimmage, the Tigers went on to cap the six-play, 53-yard scoring drive with a one-yard Effler run up the gut with 10:05 in the first. Boyd made it 7-0 Tigers with the PAT kick.
The Pigeon Forge defense kept the momentum when sophomore Andrew McCarter picked off Claiborne junior quarterback Jordan Ledford — Claiborne’s “passing” quarterback, later injured in the second quarter — on the ensuing snap from scrimmage, giving the Tigers the ball back immediately at the Bulldog 20 with 9:53 in the first.
Seven plays later and Pigeon Forge upped its lead to 13-0 when junior quarterback Tanner Sharp connected with junior Kolby Black for a two-yard aerial TD with 7:07 to go in the opening frame.
Claiborne cut it to 13-6 early in the second period when the Lee-to-Lee connection scored on a deep pass left for a 29-yard TD on 4th-and-9 with 11:05 to go in the half.
But the Tigers answered on the ensuing possession, marching 58 yards on nine plays for a 21-6 lead — which stood until the half — with 7:14 in the second. The drive was capped by a three-yard McCarter TD run, and Boyd took a fake PAT kick around the right end for a two-point conversion.
The Tigers next host district and arch county rival Gatlinburg-Pittman, while the Bulldogs host Grainger next Friday night.