By Steve Williams
Senior Night at Central High turned into the Late Late Show starring Jeremiah Howard, Jadarius Sackie and the guys in the trenches.
A thunderstorm delayed the start of the annual Battle of Black Oak Ridge against Halls for 1 hour and 20 minutes. The game finally got underway at 9:10 and ended at approximately 11:30. By the time the senior football players and cheerleaders were recognized afterwards, it was past midnight.
But grinning prevented yawning after the Bobcats’ 48-14 win Friday night at Joel Helton Field.
“It felt really different,” said Central head coach Bryson Rosser. “You felt that it was later. The kids felt a little different. The band wasn’t out, so the whole environment and atmosphere felt really weird. But I was fortunate my guys still came out to play hard.”
With the victory, Central upped its season record to 6-1. The Bobcats will try to hang on to their share of first place in Region 2-4A when they play at Anderson County in a Thursday night TV clash. Halls, which had won three in a row, is now 3-4 and will be looking to bounce back this Friday against another rival – winless Powell.
In the early going, it looked as though all Central needed to do was hold on to the football. The 1-2 punch of Howard and Sackie was clearly too fast for the Red Devils.
With conditions wet and slippery, the Bobcats lost control of the ball twice on their first possession but were able to recover the bobbles. After the second one, Coach Rosser took a timeout to settle his team down. It fixed the problem.
“We were a little inconsistent at the start and that’s never a good thing,” recalled Rosser. “I just told my guys to relax and realize the time change and the elements are a little weird but we’ve got to persevere through it either way.”
Howard, a 5-8, 206-pound senior, rushed for 207 yards and one touchdown on 10 carries. His sidekick, Sackie, a 5-6, 170-pound junior, sped into the end zone three times and finished with 106 yards on 11 attempts.
“The team that controls the line of scrimmage usually wins and we were able to do that for the most part,” said Rosser. “The offensive line gave them (Howard and Sackie) a lot of good holes to run through.”
Central took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a 9-yard burst by Sackie. Eli Holbert tacked on the first of four PAT kicks.
Two interceptions – one by noseman Alex Norris and one by defensive back Rondrow Peebles – led to two touchdowns and a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter. Sackie cashed in Norris’ pick with an explosive 33-yard run. Peebles returned his interception 18 yards for six.
Matthew Runge-Gold kept Halls in the game with a 39-yard interception return for a TD. The Bobcats’ Riley Gaul scored on a 5-yard end-around, but Runge-Gold struck again with a 99-yard kickoff return that cut Central’s first half lead to 28-14.
Halls, however, would not score again, while the Bobcats added three more touchdowns in the second half, starting with a quick 54-yard march in three plays. Sackie raced for 18 yards, Howard for 21 and Sackie for 16 more and into the end zone.
The Red Devils didn’t quit. After falling behind 35-14, they put together a 68-yard, 16-play march that ended inches short of the goal line after quarterback Andrew Davis’ fourth-and-goal pass to Caden Harbin.
After the defensive stand, Howard almost went 99 yards on the Bobcats’ first play but inexplicably tripped and fell and had to settle for a gain of 41. Howard would redeem himself by capping a 99-yard, 11-play TD march as he took a quick pitch and covered the final 15 yards.
Reserves mopped up for Central. Jahvere West blocked a punt. Monte Tucker had a 19-yard run. Backup sophomore quarterback Craig Burt scored from six yards out with 43 seconds left. Louis Mcnair stopped Halls’ last possession with the Bobcats’ fourth pick of the game.
“Central is very athletic and a very well coached team,” said Halls head coach J.D. Overton. “We struggle when we don’t win that turnover battle.”