Sevier County escapes with win over Jefferson County
Jefferson County would not go away.
Seven minutes after holding a 21-point lead, Sevier County finally secured a 42-35 victory over the Patriots on a chilly Friday night in Dandridge.
“It’s Jeff County. It’s always a fight,” said Smoky Bears running back Joe Hayes. “They could lose all their games and win this one and we’d never live it down. I think it’s more of a bragging-rights rivalry.”
The hosts played that way on Friday, never letting Sevier County get comfortable. The Bears (8-1, 6-0 2-AAA) jumped out at the start of each half but never could quite close the door, finally holding on when quarterback Luke Manning earned a first down with 30 seconds to play.
“These guys never quit,” said Sevier County sophomore Dorian Banks. “They come out and play their hardest all four quarters, every play.”
Hayes and Banks were pivotal in the second half for the Bears, combining for 162 yards and three touchdowns. Hayes ran 62 yards around the left side of the line for a touchdown on the very first play of the second half. That started a 21-point quarter that gave Sevier County separation after the game was tied 14-14 at the break.
“In the first half we got real frustrated because things weren’t going our way,” Manning said. “Calls weren’t going our way. We came out composed (in the second half). We just connected on all cylinders.”
Manning tossed a 30-yard strike to Devante Matthews between two Hayes TDs in the third. Banks scored from six yards away in the fourth, putting the Bears up 42-21. Sevier County went over 300 yards rushing with Hayes (112) and Banks (101) cracking 100.
But all those positives were offset by costly miscues. The Bears turned the ball over twice in the end zone in the first half, spoiling the chance for a lead. When Sevier County could’ve wound the clock down in the fourth quarter, a fumble gave the ball to the Patriots (4-5, 2-4), allowing them to score twice in the final minutes with the help of an onside kick.
That made the finish a bit tense for Bears coach Steve Brewer.
“I’ve seen smoother nights,” Brewer said. “I’ve seen better nights. But, shoot, it’s an IMAC win. It’s a win on the road. It’s a win against a team that fights us tooth-and-nail every time we play them.”
A Devante Matthews punt return touchdown and an Austin Rice receiving score from Manning made the game look like a rout was in store in the first quarter.
But Jefferson County answered.
Dearies Jones tied the game with two rushing touchdowns, including one on a 95-yard, one-play drive. Jones finished with 128 yards but 124 of those were before he left the game in the second half with an injury. Quarterback Malik Styles picked up the slack, finishing with 183 yards on the ground, including a 36-yard touchdown run that pulled the Patriots within a score in the fourth quarter.
But Sevier County got the ball back and held on, barely.
“At times we played extremely well and at times it looked ugly,” Brewer said. “The four turnovers and giving up big plays were something, we can’t live that way.”