COOKEVILLE — Cade Ballard sure knows how to finish off a championship week in style.
Last season, he won a Class 4A Mr. Football award, a Class 4A BlueCross Bowl championship and a BlueCross Bowl game MVP award.
On Thursday, he repeated the feat.
Ballard ran for 152 yards and four touchdowns on 19 carries, and Greeneville routed Haywood 56-21 in the 4A BlueCross Bowl at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium.
Greeneville won its fourth title overall, as it also won consecutive 4A championships in 2010-2011.
The Greene Devils found themselves swapping blows early but ultimately produced a running-clock mercy rule win.
“Nothing surprises me about them, because I know what they’ve put into it,” Greeneville coach Caine Ballard said. “But I talked to them before we came out of the locker room: this is a heavyweight fight.
“They’re going to cut us. We’re going to cut them. But when we get cut, we get right back up, wipe it off and go right back at ’em. That held true in the game.”
But this Greeneville team, which finished 15-0 just as it did last season, wanted to be the best in program history.
That was the driving force for them all season long.
And it’s hard to argue that this year’s Greene Devils aren’t the best. They’re now the second-highest scoring team in TSSAA history with 765 points. Fulton’s 862 in 2013 is the state standard, but Greeeneville’s 765 eclipsed Greeneville’s 2010 total of 748 to be the best in program history.
“Expectations. At Greeneville, it is your expectation to win state every year and get to that game,” said senior wideout Cameron Hite, who will sign with Wake Forest. “It’s amazing to feel like this. We worked so hard in the offseason and during the season.
“Weight room. Practice. Whatever it is, our guys came out and give 100 percent every day.”
The Greene Devils took huge shots from Haywood (10-5) in the first half and still managed to lead by 14 at the break. But Greeneville got the ball to start the second half, and that’s where they sealed the victory.
Greeneville methodically marched down field to the start the third quarter, draining some five minutes off the game clock as if it was trying to lull Haywood to sleep.
And maybe it did.
Because on first-and-10 at the Haywood 37, after the Greene Devils just converted on a key fourth-down play, Ballard raced untouched for a 37-yard score and 42-21 lead.
“We knew we could come out and probably knock them out in that first drive,” said Cade Ballard. “I think that really hurt them.”
Haywood responded with a fumble near midfield on its ensuing possession, and Greeneville delivered the knockout blow shortly thereafter.
Ballard’s 10-yard touchdown run with 3 minutes, 46 seconds left in the third made it 49-21.
And to think, Greeneville trailed 21-14 in the first half. It finished with 398 rushing yards and 42 unanswered points.
Ballard finished the season with 60 total touchdowns – 40 passing and 20 rushing. That total was good for fourth all-time in TSSAA history. The record (73) was set by Conner York of Upperman in 2013.
Haywood, though, set forth a frenetic pace in the first half by returning the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown – marking the first time Greeneville trailed all season. From there, Greeneville and the Tomcats traded blows until the score stood 21-all with 11:11 left in the first half. Ty Youngblood had 3- and 7-yard touchdown runs and Ballard had a 2-yard plunge during this electric span of football.
“We knew that was going to happen,” said Cade Ballard. “Anyone that downgrades that (Haywood) team … they’re legit. They’re one of the top teams in the state.
“But it’s a heavyweight fight. That’s what we preached all week. And in heavyweight fights, you might get knocked down. You might get knocked out. But you better come to and get up. And that’s what we did tonight.”
No team had surpassed 21 points on Greeneville’s defense this season. And that defense finally recorded the game’s first defensive stop with 8:56 left in the half.
That prompted Greeneville’s surge. Jaevon Gillespie’s 51-yard scamper gave the Greene Devils their first lead, 28-21, with 6:30 left in the half. Gillespie ran for 173 yards and two scores Thursday on 15 carries.
Ballard then capitalized on a Haywood fumble at the Haywood 27, and his 11-yard scoring run gave Greeneville a 35-21 lead at the 5:15 mark of the second quarter.
The two teams combined for 424 yards on 50 plays in the first half.
“I’m nervous every game. I don’t care who it is,” said Caine Ballard. “It’s just the way I am. But you turn the (Haywood) film on, and you see those guys. They’re a little different. It’s a different kind of speed than we’re used to seeing in East Tennessee, week in and week out.
“I think it took us a little while to adjust to that.”
Greeneville averted disaster, though, just before the break, as Ballard was stripped of the ball on the final play. The ball reversed course some 26 yards before Greeneville fell on it, preventing any Haywood scoop-and-score opportunity.
What’s more, Greeneville got the ball to start the second half — and that proved key. Haywood had just 42 yards after the half.
And for Cade Ballard, it was his final game of his prep career – with his teammates and his father, the coach.
“This is more than I can ever dream,” said Cade Ballard. “I am so blessed. My family is so blessed.
“This team is so blessed.”