OAK RIDGE — Oak Ridge has been known for its second-half comebacks this season, but no late-game heroics were needed Friday night against Rhea County.
The issue was decided by halftime as the Wildcats pounded the Eagles in their Class 5A playoff opener, 42-0, on Blankenship Field.subscribe to read full article
Oak Ridge (9-2) parlayed a dominant performance into a 35-0 lead at the half to eliminate the Eagles (4-6).
“This is the Oak Ridge team nobody has seen all season,” said Wildcats running back Jordan Graham, who rushed for 89 yards on 11 carries and scored on an 8-yard run in the second quarter.
Oak Ridge advances to play at Soddy-Daisy (6-4) next week. The Trojans knocked off Clinton in their Friday playoff opener 42-19.
Graham said there was a reason the Wildcats were ready to play against the Eagles.
“We had all the motivation,” he said.
“Their (Rhea County’s) radio guy had said ‘we pretty much owned Oak Ridge in the past.’ The coaches were looping the tape all week in the locker-room and we were sick of it. We came with a different attitude this week.”
The Wildcats set the tone with a five-play, 67-yard drive on the game’s opening series that culminated with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell Gibbons to Jeremy Mitchell.
Gibbons got the starting quarterback nod in place of Herbert Booker, who missed a couple of days of practice early in the week as he recovered from a shoulder injury.
Booker, however, opened at wide receiver and defensive back. He also played a couple of series at quarterback, scoring on a 23-yard run late in the first quarter.
Gibbons, a 5-foot-9, 155-pound sophomore, was sharp.
He completed 10 of 13 passes for 148 yards and also threw a 71-yard touchdown pass to Kai’Reese Pendergrass late in the second quarter.
Gaddis said he now has a pleasant dilemma heading into Round 2 of the playoffs.
“I’m not a two-quarterback guy, but I might be now,” he said with a laugh.
“Booker didn’t start because he missed practice Monday and Tuesday trying to get healthy. Playing against Rhea County we knew the passing game was going to be a priority, and Mitchell Gibbons has shown during the course of the season that he’s very accurate.”
On defense, Jack Replogle turned in a big effort for the Wildcats.
The junior safety was in on multiple tackles and returned an interception 36 yards for a touchdown midway through the second quarter.
“Jack had a big interception and he made some other big plays,” said Gaddis.
“He’s a football player and a winner.”
With the clock continuously running because of the mercy rule, the lone score of the second half was a 9-yard run by Tre Jackson late in the third quarter.
Oak Ridge’s balanced offense produced 177 yards on the ground and another 181 through the air.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats smothered Rhea County’s option attack, holding the Eagles to 83 yards in total offense.
Gaddis said it was important for Oak Ridge to get on top of Rhea County early and never let up in its playoff opener.
“The team that wins championships,” he said, “is the team that gets hot.”