Pigeon Forge looks back on narrow victory
After escaping a Friday night visit by the Claiborne County Bulldogs 27-26 and virtually securing a Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association playoff spot with the win, the Pigeon Forge Tigers aren’t in any hurry to think about the biggest game of their season, every season when District 3-AA and county rival Gatlinburg-Pittman comes to Jim Whaley Field for the regular-season finale.
There’s plenty of time for all that, after all, starting tomorrow.
“I’m pretty definite that we’re in (the playoffs) at this point,” said first-year Tigers coach Scott Meadows. “We’ll enjoy this one first. We’ll get back to work (for the G-P game) on Monday.”
Perhaps the Tigers just needed to take some time to process what they’d gone through to survive against Claiborne.
After the Tigers (5-4) built a commanding 27-6 lead heading into the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs (3-5) mounted a furious comeback that ultimately fell three yards short of an upset victory on a failed two-point conversion attempt with 18.2 seconds left in regulation.
“We started out (the game) fast, but then we relaxed,” said Meadows. “You just can’t do that, because that team was fighting for their lives trying to get in the playoffs, too.
“Against teams like that, you’ve got to just try to put them away, rather than let them kind of hang on.”
By the end of the fourth quarter, the Tigers were the ones hanging on. Just a few big plays down the stretch were the difference at the end.
Most notable was senior Devin Boyd’s stuff of Claiborne junior quarterback Dalton Lee’s potential game-winning two-point conversion attempt.
Lee had proved difficult to contain as a runner throughout the night. So, when the Tigers saw the Bulldogs go to their go-to formation on the conversion attempt, they used their third and final timeout.
“We saw what they came out in, and I’m glad we had one timeout left,” said Meadows. “We made sure we keyed that, and Devin made a heck of a play. I was proud of him.
“They’d been doing that (play) all night, and they’d been gaining a lot more than three yards. But we made the stop ... and we came away with the win.”
The Bulldogs would likely have pulled off their upset bid if three special teams plays weren’t made by the Tigers in the fourth.
Pigeon Forge junior Christian Sisto along with seniors Scott LaFollette and Tyler Watts recovered two onside kick attempts and a sneaky pooch pop-up, denying an extra possession for the Bulldogs down the stretch.
Sisto sacrificed health on his recovery, surviving the initial wave of Bulldog defenders as the Claiborne kicker attempted to recover the bunt-style kick straight up the middle of the field.
“Those were big (recoveries),” said Meadows. “And Sisto just got drilled, but he hung onto the ball and did a great job.
“We worked on that all week long. The players executed it well.”
The Tigers led 21-6 heading into the third quarter and survived a sometimes shaky period of play to build a 27-6 edge heading into the fourth.
Claiborne took the opening possession of the third and marched deep into Pigeon Forge territory, eating 4:42 off the clock with a 12-play, 52-yard venture to the Tiger 8. But the defense finally stood firm to force a turnover on downs with 7:18 to go in the period.
Despite a 74-yard burst up the middle by Pigeon Forge sophomore Noah Whaley to the Claiborne 1 being called back for flags, the Tiger offense mounted a long 12-play drive of its own. The difference was Pigeon Forge’s ended with a two-yard senior Chris Rasberry TD run for a big 27-6 lead heading into the fourth.
“Offensively, we did some good things in the third quarter,” said Meadows. “But we had an unsportsmanlike call and a block-in-the-back call (both on Whaley’s run), and you just can’t do those things against teams like that.”
But still, the Tigers ultimately overcame themselves for the one-point homecoming win.
And speaking of the tradition, Meadows said he didn’t think homecoming had anything to do with the distracted kind of way the Tigers played the fourth quarter.
“I worried about homecoming at the beginning of the week, but homecoming wasn’t a distraction at all,” said Meadows. “Everything went great this week, and we had a good week of preparation.
“We played the first two-and-a-half quarters the way we practiced all week, but the last quarter-and-a-half we were just trying to keep from losing.”