Young Tigers show promise
Noah Whaley came to Pigeon Forge coach Scott Meadows with a suggestion Friday night.
The sophomore had noticed Sullivan North’s had shifted its alignment when the Tigers went with an unbalanced set.
“He came to me between plays and said, ‘They’re bumping too many guys over there. There’s only one guy over there on the weak side,’ ” Meadows said. “So we started hitting it over on that side. He’s got a very high football IQ.”
It turned out to be a smart pickup from Whaley, who rolled his way to 209 yards and three touchdowns in Pigeon Forge’s 34-27 victory in the first round of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s Class 3A playoffs. It was the Tigers first-ever postseason victory, earning them a trip to Alcoa next week.
But Whaley wasn’t the only smart, young back making noise against the Raiders. Andrew McCarter, finally getting a shot after backing up the injured Chase Effler all season, burst his way to 80 yards on the ground, including a huge 49-yard run in the first half that set up the tying touchdown.
After a roller coaster of a regular season that saw the Tigers knocked down and respond week after week, some of Pigeon Forge’s youngest players showed how much they’ve grown.
“Finally getting the opportunity, I just ran as hard as I could,” McCarter said. “Look for daylight, hit the hole and run as hard as you can.”
Much like Whaley, Meadows said McCarter has a high football IQ. He showed it on Friday by finding that daylight and puncturing big holes in the Sullivan North defense. His 49-yard run came after a punt and a penalty had Pigeon Forge all the way to its own 24. His run completely flipped the field.
“He broke some huge runs,” said quarterback Tanner Sharp. “I was really impressed with him. I doubted him a little bit but he came out and shut me up.”
Whaley and McCarter, along with Sharp, are starting to see the game slow down for them, Meadows said. They can pick things up on the defense at the line and adjust thanks to their burgeoning football IQ.
Whatever the reason, both players burst through the defense nearly every time they touched the ball Friday night. Together they averaged better than eight yards per carry. Whaley was the workhorse who could stay on his feet for at least four yards each time. McCarter set up scores, picking up an 8-yard catch at the 1 that lead to the go-ahead touchdown right before the end of the first half.
The coach said he feels fortunate that all both backs are sophomores. After McCarter’s first steps onto center stage Friday night, it sure looks like this won’t be the Tigers’ last postseason triumph.
“He doesn’t complain if he doesn’t get the ball all the time,” Meadows said. “He does his job. Everybody’s starting to do that. Whenever everyone starts playing that way, everything starts working a heck of a lot better.”