Pigeon Forge makes history with playoff win
It had all the makings of another Pigeon Forge heartbreaker.
But the Tigers were brilliant in a game they started slow and was close at the finish, powering their way to a 34-27 victory over Sullivan North to give Pigeon Forge its first-ever playoff win.
“It was such a relief,” said quarterback Tanner Sharp. “We were all so happy, as you can see when we ran to the field. Everybody was happy. It was just a great win. I'm glad we got it done.”
The Tigers did it on the back of Noah Whaley's 209 yards and three touchdowns. The sophomore averaged nearly seven yards per carry to propel Pigeon Forge (6-5) into the second round of the Tennesee Secondary School Athletic Association's class 3A playoffs. He had both the go-ahead score in the third quarter and an insurance TD run in the fourth.
“The middle was wide-open all night,” Whaley said. “My guards blocked real well. The whole line blocked, made it happen.”
Whaley wasn't the only beneficiary of big blocking, with teammate Chris Rasberry adding 124 yards on the ground and Andrew McCarter rushing for 80 yards on four carries. It all added up to a ground game the Raiders (6-5) had no answer for.
“We thought going in the fullback trap was their best play,” said Sullivan North coach Robbie Norris. “And that was their best play. Hats off to Pigeon Forge. They've got a really good team, a really good coach. Obviously their program is on the upswing.”
The Tigers, losers in their first five postseason appearances, had to fight for their first win. Pigeon Forge drove down the field on its first possession before a touchdown was called back on a penalty. Two plays later, Sharp, under pressure, threw an interception that was returned 80 yards by Zach Duncan for a touchdown.
The Raiders scored on their first possession to make it 14-0 on a 21-yard run from Jacob Jasper, who had 91 yards and three touchdowns. But the Tigers would not go away.
“We all got together,” Sharp said. “We knew we were going to have to step up if we wanted to win this ball game. We wanted our first win. We were just all determined. We talked as a group, the offense did, and then we came out and we got it going.”
The Tigers glided down the field in 13 plays, giving the Raiders a steady dose of Whaley and Rasberry. Sharp's two-yard touchdown run to cap the drive was just the beginning.
A 49-yard run from McCarter set the Tigers second scoring drive up in the red zone, leading to Whaley's first score. Pigeon Forge then marched to the end zone again, with Sharp hitting Colton Bryan for a short scoring strike as time expired in the first half.
But the 20-14 halftime lead didn't stand up long. Jasper put the hosts up 21-20 with another 3-yard scoring run in the third.
This time, unlike those three regular-season losses by less than three points, the Tigers responded. Pigeon Forge put together a seven-play drive — four of them Whaley runs — capped by the sophomore's 25-yard go-ahead touchdown. Jasper would get another score on the Raiders' next possession, but a botched extra-point attempt kept the Tigers ahead and Whaley reached the end zone again to make it a touchdown game.
“The one thing that we didn't do tonight that we've done in the past is whenever we dug ourselves a hole we didn't get down on ourselves,” said Pigeon Forge coach Scott Meadows. “We got down 14-0 and I didn't even have to say anything to the players. They were picking each other up. The group did a great job.”
History was assured when Anthony Baiamonte made a stop on fourth down at midfield on Sullivan North's final possession.
“I'm proud for the players, proud for the school, proud for the community,” Meadows said. “It's been a long time coming. I'm just glad I'm part of it.”