As we continue to fight the dead heat of Summer, we’ll also continue to countdown some of the best of the modern era.
This time we’ll hone in on some of the best out-of-valley matchups where Sequatchie Valley teams have faced off against other teams in close affairs or at least ones that were exciting to watch. For the purposes of this countdown, the opposing team does not matter, but where the game ranks on the classic scale is all but important on this list.
We’ll be taking games from the past five years regardless of when they were played (i.e. regular season or playoffs) or where they were played (i.e. at home or away), and the winner may not necessarily be the from the Sequatchie Valley. Again, this is strictly based on the quality of the game combined with the significance to the that season for either team.
And with that said, let’s start off with a recent shocker from out in Smithville.
5. Grundy County at Dekalb County, 2015
“THE TALE OF TWO TEAMS”
Final Score: Dekalb County 28, Grundy County 20
THE HYPE: To be honest, this game didn’t have a lot of hype, unless you include the excitement that the Tigers brought all season dominating teams they shouldn’t and also playing it close with teams they shouldn’t have. The roller coaster that the black and gold clad players brought was unlike any other in the region. Either way, Dekalb County was still in the running for the first Region 4-3A championship title. The Yellow Jackets, on the other hand, came into the game with a less-than-impressive 1-5 record. They had a shot at the playoffs but not much more than that. To say this matchup had been anticipated would be a complete exaggeration on anybody’s part with little to no rivalry/backstory between the two teams and the condition of the two programs at that point.
DOWN THE STRETCH: Surprisingly, to start the game, the Yellow Jackets scored on a 90-yard run by James McDaniel with just over four minutes left in the first quarter. A missed PAT put Grundy County up by 6. The Tigers countered with a 17-yard run by quarterback Steven Jennings. On the next offensive possession, Jennings threw a 74-yard touchdown pass to put the Tigers up 14-6 after a successful two-point conversion. Late in the second quarter, the Jackets would fumble on their own 37-yard line leading to another Jennings touchdown run, this time for four yards. Even later in the half, with four seconds to be exact, Ethan Nunley connected with James McDaniel for a 76 -yard touchdown at the buzzer. The Jackets entered the locker room now down 21-12. Jennings would throw another pass in the third to put the Tigers up 28-12. With 8:10 in the third quarter, the Jackets scored on a Kevin Castro rushing touchdown for 77-yards, putting the Jackets deficit at a manageable 8 points. The Tigers wouldn’t score again, but a crucial interception by Christian Pruitt on the Tigers’ 12-yard line with less than a minute to go in the game sealed the deal for up-and-down Dekalb County.
THE EXTRA POINT: This game marked the first time in the modern era (since 2001) that these two teams met. The teams also combined for four 50+ yard touchdown plays.
4. Moore County at Whitwell, 2015
Final Score: Whitwell 19, Moore County 7
THE HYPE: In the second year of the R.C. Helton revival in Whitwell, the Tigers were also lined up for another first round playoff game as they hosted Moore County. A two-versus-three matchup made it exciting but with plenty of other games in the Chattanooga taking precedence and the threat of rain pushing some matchups to Thursday, the red and white faithful were far from a marquee matchup. And not to mention the road trip from Lynchburg, Tennessee to watch what was perceived as a snoozer is not one that many took, with the contingent of even Whitwell fans being scarce on that Friday night.
DOWN THE STRETCH: As the evening settled in and the rain started to pour down on Vernon Holtcamp field, it was evident that if this game was close, it would be nothing short of a knock-down, drag-out type of game. Three minutes in, fullback Jake Sartin took it up the middle for a 39-yard touchdown supplemented by an Austin Nunley PAT. At that point, the field was still intact, but as the second and third quarters came and went, it was less a field and more of a giant puddle. Regardless, the score was still 7-0 heading into the fourth, with Moore County getting closer and closer to a score. Ten seconds into the final period, Sartin again punched one in from 11 yards out to put the Tigers up 13-0 after a missed two-point conversion. Four minutes later, Moore County’s Spencer Reese ran wide open for a 50-yard touchdown run, putting the game at a 6-point margin. After an interception by Clay McHone, the Tigers scored again with around three minutes left in the game via a 28-yard Sartin rush down the middle once again.
THE EXTRA POINT: This win for the Tigers would mark the first time since 2004 that the Tigers won a first round playoff game. The Tigers would fall to Columbia Academy in the second round after a 6-6 year on the gridiron. There were no clean jerseys left after that historic Friday night.
3. Bledsoe County at Chatt. Christian, 2011
“SHOCKER IN CHARGERTOWN”
Final Score: Bledsoe County 43, Chatt. Christian 42
THE HYPE: In what would be a historic season for the Warriors, where their only loss came against scandal-ridden Signal Mountain, they still had one game left if they were to take the District crown. In the driver’s seat, it seemed like another blowout for the Warriors, but traveling was not their forte, playing closer games on the road. The Chargers on the other hand, were just hoping for a wild card berth in the playoffs, and they came within a few feet of accomplishing that goal on their home turf. Either way, this matchup didn’t have all the hype in the world, but sometimes having an underdog is hype enough (check out our previous two entries on the list).
DOWN THE STRETCH: Right out of the gates, the Chargers held back nothing as they took an early two-touchdown lead on passes from Levi Corbett for 55 and seven yards. By the end of the first, Corbett had hit another pass for a touchdown but not before Bledsoe County put themselves on the scoreboard with a 41-yard run by Brandon Smith. Into the second, Bledsoe County turned the tables, scoring two touchdowns via Smith and a safety as Chattanooga Christian mustered another Corbett pass for a touchdown. Into the locker room, the Warriors had fought back to cut the deficit to six points with CCS leading 28-22. The Chargers turned to their running game in the third quarter scoring early on a one-yard run. Smith would accumulate two more touchdowns for the Warriors before CCS would rely on their rushing attack again with a 18-yard run from Beau Simmons. Defense finally came to light near the end of the third as neither team could muster a score most of the way through the fourth quarter. Still down 42-36, Smith dipped in for a one yard run with 25 seconds left to give the Warriors their first lead of the game. Riding off that success, Bledsoe County kicked onside but failed to pick up the ball as the Chargers set up a 43 yard field goal in 18 seconds. With seven seconds left on the clock, Simmons kicked a field goal from the left hash and missed to that same side, giving the Warriors the district crown and a lot of momentum going into the playoffs.
THE EXTRA POINT: This is the highest scoring game on the countdown with a combined 85 points scored, with 6 of those touchdowns coming from Brandon Smith. Smith ran for 266 yards on 38 carries. The Warriors would end their season 10-2 and become the winningest Warrior team in the modern era (since 2001).
2. Marion County at Central, 2014
“THE FUMBLE AT ETTER-FARMER”
Final Score: Chatt. Central 7, Marion County 0
THE HYPE: In contrast to our previous entries, No. 2 on our list came in with a considerable amount of hype for several reasons. The first being that it was seen as a David vs. Goliath type match with Marion County being a small, rural school with limited resources while Central was a larger, more urban program on the upswing. The year before, the two teams matched up and took it down to the wire with a 21-19 win in Central’s favor. And just a week prior, the Pounders lost to East Ridge but held them to only a field goal the entire game, ending 3-0. Coupled with the fact that Marion County was viewed to be an elite program no matter the classification, this early season bout had a lot of clout behind it.
DOWN THE STRETCH: Surprisingly, the defenses felt each other out very briefly before Central’s Sharome Tatum picked up a fumble and took it to the house for a 47 yard touchdown. The fumble came from a failed hook-and-ladder by Marion’s Blake Brooks in which he pitched the ball but no one was there to receive it except for Tatum. The Warriors definitely played better defense, hold Central to only 104 yards and four first downs on the night. That was 71 yards less than what they were held to, and senior running back Blake Zeman probably accounted for most of that rushing for 78 yards. That’s way down from his regular nine-yards-a-carry type numbers. And sometimes, the masses underestimate the excitement of a total defensive bout.
THE EXTRA POINT: The 7-0 bout would be the only loss of the first Ricky Ross campaign until the State Championship against Peabody 3 months later. The enrollment difference in the schools is close to 400 students.
1. South Pittsburg at Grace-Knox., 2011
Final Score: Grace Christian 3, South Pittsburg 0 (3 OT)
THE HYPE: For a game wielding two of the best teams in the State, there was a mid-level hype for this game. That’s mostly because the two teams didn’t normally play, but another factor added into the half-hype: Grace’s two-year playoff ban. In what would be the last game of the Rams season, they were 9-0 searching for a perfect finish. Even being a classification higher, the blue and silver faithful were still worried about their chances against the eventual Class 1A runners-up. Still, no one expected the game that would ensue in Knoxville.
DOWN THE STRETCH: No points could be mustered early in this one as both teams played phenomenal defense, and that may have been an extreme snoozer at the time, but as the game gets later and goose eggs are still on the board, the tension builds. The Pirates had the upper hand for the majority of the matchup gaining 231 yards compared to Grace’s 82. Still with more yards, South Pittsburg couldn’t muster a point. As the game went past regulation, the you could cut the tension with a butter knife as overtime rules give both teams four downs from the ten yard line to score. And the fact that Grace stopped the Pirates twice was phenomenal. In the third overtime, senior cornerback Jake Minga intercepted a pass in the end zone to halt the Pirates’ progress. Later in the period, Minga missed a pass in the endzone, and the Rams eventually moved the ball to the five-yard line. That would give Grace kicker Jonathan Griffith a 22-yard attempt from the middle on a wet and sloppy field. It would go through the uprights and the rest was history as the Rams claimed a 10-0 record in a season where the postseason was unreachable due to a playoff ban.
THE EXTRA POINT: A three overtime game is rare, but it was not a record for TSSAA. The longest game in terms of extra periods was a six overtime game. The Pirates would become Class 1A Runner-Up while the 2A Rams sat the playoffs out. In three meetings in the modern era (since 2001) Grace holds the 2-1 lead.