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Bulldogs bounce back to run past Karns 28-6


Two blocked punts and a key interception gave Bearden’s Bulldogs all the margin they needed Friday, Sept. 15, to defeat Karns High School’s Beavers 28-6 and keep Bulldog hopes alive for a berth in the Region 1-5A playoffs.

After clinging to a tenuous 7-6 first-half lead, the Bulldogs tweaked their running game and bolstered their defense and special teams game at halftime, then returned afterward to stymie the Beavers and their talented quarterback, Logan Hammontree, before an appreciative Bearden homecoming crowd.

The Beavers played ball control much of the game, took advantage of early Bulldog penalties, rolled up as many first downs (12) as BHS, and mounted several threats; but KHS (0-4) was frustrated by missing an extra point, a key field goal and by having two punts blocked.

The Bulldogs (3-2, 1-1) leaped out to an early lead when defensive end Matt Williamson recovered a blocked punt at the Beavers’ 19. Running back Torey Works then scored with 7:51 left in the quarter, and Brandon Reagan kicked the lead to 7-0.

Hammontree, using a wishbone attack, relied on runs by senior Tytus Moss, Chris Torrence, Zach Stephens and Jesse James to win respect for Karns’ running game, which rolled up 159 yards rushing for the night to Bearden’s 156.

But thanks to BHS’s defensive secondary, Hammontree connected on just one pass of seven thrown all night for two yards; and two of his passes were intercepted, one for a Bulldog touchdown. Fine tackling by Bearden’s Danne Blocksma, Nathan Hamilton, C.J. Gunn and Peter Shankles kept the Beavers at bay much of the game.

Near the end of the first quarter, KHS threatened on first down at the BHS 12, but Brandon Pemberton threw Torrence for a loss, and Sean Cunningham then broke up a pass at the Bulldog 10.

Swarming defense then blocked kicker Conrad Pinkston’s 28-yard field goal try, so Karns came up dry.

Bearden, playing for the first time without injured senior pass receiver Dontae Bunche, out with a shoulder injury, relied mostly on a ground game that saw strong running from Works and Cunningham behind sweep blocking outside.

A fumble at the BHS 41 stalled one promising Karns drive with 10:06 left in the half.

But on another, Karns senior fullback Everett Hudnall raced 30 yards to Bearden’s two-yard-line. The Beavers’ James then scored with a two-yard run at 9:41. Pinkston’s missed PAT, however, left Bearden a slim 7-6 lead.

To end the quarter, Quarterback Dawson Halliday tried a last-second pass, but Torrence picked it off near midfield and returned it to Bearden’s 20. A promising second-quarter Bulldog drive stalled after offside penalties and a bad snap left BHS facing fourth-and-23 at the KHS 24.

Hammontree, averaging 6.5 yards a carry, later rallied the Beavers; but fine tacking by Pemberton, Gunn, Cunningham and Shankles contained Karns’ offense. Hammontree tried a goal line pass with 22 seconds left in the half, but the Bulldogs’ Darius Dubose alertly snagged the pass in the end zone.

Blocksma, with 7:10 left in the half, blocked Lucas Dees’ punt, and Works scooped the loose ball up to score on a 21-yard run. That and Reagan’s PAT gave BHS halftime breathing room at 14-6.

Beaver hopes for a second-half turnaround evaporated when Cunningham picked off a Hammontree pass and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown and a 21-6 Bulldog lead with 11 minutes left. Gradually, Bearden’s swarming defense took away Karns’ keeper plays that earlier had kept the Beavers in the defensive struggle.

Halliday then hit Gunn with a 33-yard pass to the Beavers 26 to set up an 8-yard Works TD, his third of the night, with 4:56 left in the third quarter.

Playing for respect, Hammontree tried runs by James and halfback Cody Vitkus, but when Gunn covered James’ fumble at the Beavers 30 with 8:52 playing time left it sealed the outcome.

After the Bulldogs’ win, hea coach Bill Wilson told his players to rest up and savor the victory because a difficult clash awaits them Sept. 22 against Class 4A power Central High.

“We almost took a step backward tonight,” Wilson said, noting first-half penalties that helped Karns stay in the game. Wilson reminded his players of Central-s 55-28 win over BHS in 2005 in which Central scored nearly all its points, unanswered, in the first half.

“We’re going to get after them,” Wilson said. “We look like a real football team again,” after losses to Dobyns-Bennett and Farragut High School.

Wilson later attributed the win to his team’s second-half focus on avoiding costly penalties. He said the Bulldogs must win its remaining games, including a Set. 29 contest at Science Hill, to compete in District 1-5A.

Cunningham, the junior running back, after returning an interception 26 yards for a score, echoed his coach, saying: “Our heads weren’t in the game that first half. After coach Wilson talked to us at halftime, we got our heads on straight,” thanks partly, he said, to effective leadership from seniors like Zack Jackson.

Cunningham said he was proud of teammates for playing “maybe our best game yet,” at least the second half.

Despite Torey Works’ three touchdowns, the Bulldog running back deferred all credit to efforts by a line whose standouts included Pemberton, Ryne Goodrich, Wes Moore and Nathan Hamilton.

Hamilton said teammates knew “we had to stop hurting ourselves with penalties.” All four agreed that mistake-free play, combined with Cunningham’s interception, made all the difference in the win.

Hamilton said the Bulldogs must play “smash-mouth” defense this week to prevail over Central.

With Bunche recuperating, Works became BHS’s offensive workhorse, piling up 108 yards on 12 carries.

Cunningham carried nine times for 75 yards and one touchdown.

As a team, the Bulldogs rushed 28 times for 156 yards. Karns made 159 yards on 49 tries.

Without Bunche as his target, Halliday completed four of his 11 passes for 156 yards, but BHS’s 193 yards on 39 plays eclipsed Karns’ 161 yards on 56 plays.

The Bulldogs’ eight penalties cost them 40 yards. KHS lost 30 yards on just four penalties.

Pemberton led the BHS defense with seven solo tackles and seven more assists, while teammates Gunn and Lewis each posted seven solo tackles and three assists.

Wilson said his defense tackled better than in its Sept. 8 loss at Farragut, and he called Cunningham’s interception and TD return “great.”

“Sean played back like that and did just the same thing against Dobyns-Bennett” Sept. 1, Wilson smiled.

“But he dropped it back then. He wasn’t about to let go, tonight.”

 

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