The Cougars 2020 season got underway Friday night in Newport and it started with a one sided win vs the Fighting Cocks.
The game itself was normal but some events leading into the game were different. There was no meeting of the captains and coin toss for instance. That was handled at a game administrators meeting while the players kept well back off the field.
Once the kick-off took place we were back to normal football. Something the players, coaches and fans have longed for ever since Spring football was cancelled.
The Cougars and Cocke County exchanged punts to begin the game but on the Cougars second possession QB Hunter White got into a rhythm with MaKyle Shepherd and the offense moved down the field. Another pass to Charon Williams had the offense knocking on the door at the 6 yard line. A false start penalty moved the ball back to the 11 yard line. White then rolled to his right and spotted C.J. Allen is the endzone. He lofted a pass over the head of the defender and just like that, the Cougars were on the board for 2020, after the Johnson extra point it was 7-0.
Cocke County soon mounted a drive of their own, getting into Cougar territory before sputtering around the 25 yard line. The field goal team marched out and just cleared the uprights on a 42 yard attempt, making it 7-3.
That was it for the Fighting Cock offense on the evening. It was absolute dominance by the Cougar defense the rest of the way. Blake Taylor, CJ Allen and Desmond Gilbert wreaked havoc in the backfield with each recording big sacks. Allen then plucked a Cocke County pass from the sky and set the Cougar offense up deep in Fignting Cock territory. MaKyle Shepherd took a White pass for several yards. Two other passes went high leaving the Cougars with a 4th and 3. White to Allen delivered again. C.J. took the White pass and crushed several Cocke County defenders, carrying the ball inside the ten yard line.
It didn’t take long after that for the Cougars to move the scoreboard. White hit Mason Shanks in stride as he crossed the goal line. This time the extra point went awry, leaving the Cougars up 13-3. There it would stay until half time.
Soon after the second half began the officials finally seemed to notice the persistent lighting strike in the far west and decided to delay the game. Approximately 30 minutes later the game resumed, but Cocke County took an immediate gut punch coming out of the delay when Skylar Clawson recovered a Fighting Cock fumble. This set the Cougars up deep in Cocke County territory and they cashed it in for 3 points to go up 16-3.
After more defensive football amid rain showers, C.J. Allen added his second touchdown of the game after a Fighting Cocke wide receiver tipped a ball into the air, Allen shoved the receiver he was covering to the ground and grabbed his second interception of the game. He marched into the endzone with this one. The Cougars took a 22-3 lead.
The Cocke County offense could muster no fight against the fierce pass rush of the Cougars. Hunter White led another drive down the field, spreading the ball around to his wide receivers with some help from running back Allen. With 5:53 remaining in the 4th quarter Devon Jones broke behind the Cocke County defense on a post route into the endzone. As he entered his break White zipped his 3rd touchdown pass into the arms of the sophomore, making his high school debut after being out with an injury his entire freshman season. Jones has talent and potential and for a first game, his debut was a good one.
The Cougars were up 29-3 at that point and they ran clock the rest of the way, they punted back to Cocke County with under a minute remaining but the Cougar defense shut things down and the clock ticked to zero.
C.J. Allen was a monster on both offense and defense. Blake Taylor picked up where he left off last year, by terrorizing the opposing quarterback. Wyatt Sharp had a great night on defense after receiving extensive playing time there. Hunter White looked cool and collected as he tossed 3 touchdowns. The Cougar offensive line proved adept at pass protection, though their run blocking could use a boost before Carter comes to town. Oddly, the Cougars didn’t run their normal big package down inside the 10 yard line. This has been a staple of the entire Price era, but the coach had faith in his quarterback who delivered with the three touchdowns from short distance.
All in all for a team playing it’s first live football vs another team, with no scrimmages or jamboree this year, it was a solid effort. There were a few penalties, but nothing major and the victory was never in any doubt at all. That’s about all you can ask about for a game one. Especially under these unusual circumstances.
For the first time in my football viewing life, there was no handshake post game. No traditional high fives for the fans along the fence. In his post game speech Coach Price praised the teams efforts, pointed out the things that finally having film would help them fix before next week, the standard game one victory speech most any coach would deliver. He also stressed social distancing in order for the Cougars to be able to continue this journey and reality came crashing back. But for those 60 minutes between the lines, things were Friday night normal.