Hunter White

It was an unfortunately familiar story on Friday night at L. Hope Dossett Stadium. Oak Ridge arrived and took yet another victory in the series that dates back to 1975.

Long a region power, the Wildcats were off to a slow start in 2019 with losses to Hardin Valley and Kingsport DB. Their start was much faster on Friday night. The Cougars won the coin toss and chose to accept the ball. However the kick was bobbled and with the team speed you face with Oak Ridge that split second is enough. The Cougars were forced to start on their own 14 yard line.

The Cougar offense couldn’t muster yards and had to punt on their first possession. Oak Ridge was able to take the ball on the CCHS side of the field. The Wildcats put together a drive that ended in 7 points, amazingly it was the first time they had scored 7 in a game this season. It gave the Wildcats confidence early, something no Cougar wanted to see.

CCHS fared better on their next drive, getting a 15 yard penalty for a 1st down then moving the ball behind a Hunter White pass play to Cahron Williams. The Cougars crossed into Oak Ridge territory but the drive ended at the 48 with a Wildcat interception.

Oak Ridge couldn’t make any magic happen this time out, the Cougar defense stiffened and Blake Taylor continued his inspired play, sacking the Wildcat QB, making it 3rd and 12. The Wildcats had an errant pass and were forced to punt as the quarter came to a close. It was 7-0 and the Cougars seemed to be in the thick of the battle.

That would change quickly in the second quarter. The Oak Ridge punt took a good roll inside the Cougar 15, once again leaving a lot of grass between the Cougars and the end zone. The Cougars had a short gain on the ground from CJ Allen but the ready Wildcat defense forced the punt. Oak Ridge once more got started a drive inside the 40 of CCHS. One play later the Wildcats scored a touchdown, the xp was good and it was 14-0.

On the next play, the Cougars fumbled the kick return and Oak Ridge took it 20 yards for a score. It was suddenly 21-0 when two plays before it had been 7-0 and the Cougars had the ball.

The Wildcats kicked off to the Cougars and this time the offense began to move the ball. CJ Allen had a nice run, and Devlin Dukes and Gavin Newman quick catches from Hunter White and the Cougars were quickly back on the Wildcat side of the field, trying to make it 21-7 at the half. White hit Cahron Williams and CJ Allen had another solid run, bringing the Cougars 4th and 1 near the Wildcat 40. It appeared the Cougars were going to use the quick snap that had worked on an earlier Allen gainer but the line moved and it was 4th and 6. Coach Price elected to punt in hopes of getting Oak Ridge in a long field position before the half.

The punt took Oak Ridge down to their own 25 yard line with 6 minutes to go in the half. The Wildcats mounted another drive, capping this one off with a score with 2:48 left in the half.

The Cougars offense took the field but were looking at a 3 and out in the face of a very fast Wildcat defense. However a roughing the punter penalty gave CCHS a 1st down. A few plays later Isiah Johnson intercepted White again and the Oak Ridge offense took the field 66 yards from paydirt. The Wildcats quickly scored again just before half, making the score 33-0.

When the second quarter assault finally ended, Oak Ridge had scored 27 points. There were opportunities for the Cougar that came up just a few inches short. Multiple long pass plays that were inches from completion for instance. Unfortunately this was a game where everything went the Wildcats way. The Cougars managed to have major mistakes in each phase of the game.

In the second half the Cougars would threaten to score two times before the drives ended deep in Oak Ridge territory. The Wildcats had one long scoring play to make it 40-0. The Cougars never stopped trying and outside of that really tough 9 minute stretch in the 2nd quarter they played okay vs the Wildcats.

This will be one of the games these young Cougars can learn from as 2019 continues. The importance of special teams play, field position and never quitting can be taken into next week’s game vs Seymour and in district play as that part of the schedule arrives. The Cougars can be encouraged by the play of the offensive line and front 7 on defense.

White is growing up before our very eyes. Each game throws unique pressures at the young quarterback that he’s seeing for the first time. The learning curve is steep but improvement will come.

Speaking with Cougar legend Ethan Jeffers pre-game, he looked back at throwing 5 interceptions in his first start as a sophomore. Then over 50 passes the next week against Cumberland County. Those Cougars went 3-7 but the foundation was laid for a very high level of play the next two years. It feels like we are seeing that with White and these young skill players and linemen each week. It’s not always pretty early on but these long nights build fires inside that lead to bigger things.

The Cougars next bigger thing is homecoming vs Seymour in 6 days. The Oak Ridge game is history and now the Cougars’ goal shifts to going 1-0 in week four.