For the first time in 10 seasons Cougar football took the field without Matt and Justin Price. The normal excitement of playing a bit tampered by very sad reason those two couldn’t attend, the Cougar staff of Cody Seiber, Troy Arnold, Chris Honeycutt and Landon Reece had their young men ready to go out and give it their all for their missing coaches and the young reason they were absent.
As most now know, Jack Price, youngest son of Cougar Head Coach Justin Price and his wife Traci Price, was diagnosed with leukemia this week. Once that illness is discovered, treatment begins immediately. The Price family gathered to support Justin, Traci and young Jack on Friday, for a battle far larger than one on a football field.
The Cougars, decked out in Orange, the color of leukemia awareness, gathered in Neyland Stadium prepared to play their hearts out for their coach and his family. Austin East, a traditional East Tennessee power, returned the core of a team that made the 3rd round of the TSSAA playoffs before falling 24-6 to perennial state championship winner, Alcoa, in 2018. Led by a dynamic quarterback, Austin East had averaged 47.2 ppg vs teams not named Alcoa in the last 7 games they had played.
The Cougar defense set the tone quickly, Chaz Duverney, Javan McCulley and Jaden White bull rushed the Austin East front and linebacker Blake Taylor wreaked havok on the Road Runner QB and any attempt at running the ball. The Road Runners went backwards on their first drive before electing to punt on 4th down and very long.
The Cougar offense took over and sophomore Hunter White got the starting nod. White looked cool and confident as he fired balls wide to Cahron Williams. Williams, an elusive junior receiver with speed to burn made the Road Runners pay on an 18 yard reception from White. Another White completion got the Cougars inside the 10 yard line. An off sides penalty on Austin East’s defensive line saw the Cougars with 1st and goal from just inside the 5 yard line. Much like they did on their way to a state championship at Jacksboro two seasons ago, Hunter White handed the ball to C.J. Allen, Brennan Byrge, Ben Conrad, Chaz Duverney and Calob Osborne had blown out the Road Runner front and Allen dashed into the end zone for the Cougar score. A Tyler Johnson extra point saw the Cougars leading 7-0 with around 7 minutes to go in the quarter.
The Cougar defense once again took the field and once again Javan McCulley and Blake Taylor looked like men among boys in the trenches. The Road Runners were going backwards on the ground before hooking up for some positive yardage, but not enough for a first down. The Cougar linebackers were playing quite well behind the stout defensive line. Savvy veterans like Michael Brown, Colby Raines and Daymon Seiber will make for a good mix in 2019 with younger guys like Desmond Gilbert and Blake Taylor. The Cougar defensive backs were also playing quite well. Especially so considering 3 of the 4 projected starters were out with injury.
The Cougar offense took the field again, this time with Joseph Paul at quarterback. They began to move the ball once more but Paul had an unfortunate fumble as he was running right and Austin East recovered the errant ball. The Road Runners showed a flash of that high scoring offense by making big yardage pass plays. Austin East got on the board and decided to go for 2 to attempt the 8-7 lead with around 3 minutes remaining in the match. The Cougar pass rush got after the Road Runner QB, forcing him to roll right with Desmond Gilbert in hot pursuit. Gilbert managed to get him to the sideline and his fellow linebacker, Colby Raines made a diving hit that forced the QB out of bounds short of the goal.
This left the Cougars needing to hold onto the football with the 7-6 lead and with 3 minutes to burn. Hunter White once again took the field and started the drive off with a positive yardage play. The Cougars rotated quarterbacks, getting as many players on the field as possible and still managed to move the ball. Wyatt Sharp finished off the Road Runners with his touchdown in the final moments, giving the Cougars the 13-6 victory. Their second in a row in Neyland Stadium.
The Cougars looked sharp and ready to play even with the sad news from the prior day. They played Price football even without the Prices being there in person. Veterans like Anthony Gaylor stepped up at receiver and defensive back and made it seem like the injuries there weren’t an issue. Youngsters like White, Williams and CJ Allen kept the offense humming. Also keep your eyes peeled for #15 this season. Blake Taylor was a major disruptive force in the preseason scrimmages and he didn’t slow down in this game.
We don’t yet know how much time Justin and Matt will be able to spend coaching this fall. We do know their stamp on the program and the community is indelible. We also know their staff knows how to coach football and their players love their coaches and each other. We all love Jack Price too, and his victory will be the most important one for Cougar Nation as the weeks and months of fall arrive in Campbell County.