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Bobcats Bulldogged
Big plays, tackling push BHS to upset over Central

Threatening skies supplied the rains, but Bearden’s Bulldogs provided their own brand of lightning by combining big plays with tough tackling for a convincing 21-6 win at Bearden Stadium over the highly-regarded Central High Bobcats.

Bulldog players said later they recalled how Central humiliated them in their previous meeting by scoring 55 unanswered first-half points. This year, too, the Bobcats had embarrassed four opponents, including Farragut, by a collective 153-16 score.

To convince his players not to allow a repeat, head coach Bill Wilson provided his team with pink T-shirt reminders, worn Friday, whose message read, “55-0 NOT.”

That – or something else – worked well because Central’s high-powered offense, which had never trailed this season, managed four net rushing yards all night — 18 coming in the final quarter.

Bulldogs quarterback Dawson Halliday, on BHS’ first series, served notice to Bobcats they would not repeat previous dominance.

After engineering a first down on nimble running by Torey Works, Halliday tossed a 44-yard strike to wide receiver Aaron Gray for a quick lead, which the Bulldogs never lost. Brandon Reagan kicked the lead to 7-0, just five minutes deep into the game.

Bulldog fans still were celebrating 14 seconds later when Central showed its retaliatory capability. Bobcats quarterback Clark McMillan faked an end-around that fooled Bearden defenders and sent WR Orlando Blair on a 66-yard jaunt to the end zone with 7:38 left. A missed point-after try left BHS a fragile one-point lead.

A Bulldog drive stalled with six minutes left, but just when Central notched a 50-yard TD pass to Blair, a penalty snuffed out the score.

Key tackles from Matt Williamson, Peter Shankles and Michael Lewis then dulled the Bobcats’ drive at the CHS 39. The Bulldogs took over and rolled on Works’ runs and precision Halliday passes to Gray, Sean Cunningham and Brandon Pemberton.

Facing second-and-six at the Bobcat 24, Halliday capped a nine-play drive with a 24-yard pass to Dontae Bunche, back in the lineup from a shoulder injury two weeks ago. As drizzle set in, Reagan kicked Bearden’s lead to 14-6.

Any thought Central had about bouncing back evaporated on its ensuing drive when Williamson threw the Bobcats for a 21-yard loss.

Determined Bobcats drove back, but Cunningham alertly recovered a fumble at Central’s 24 and Bearden threatened again. With 2:03 left in the half, however, Bobcat wide receiver Adam Bridges picked off Halliday’s end-zone pass for Bunche.

Bulldog aggressiveness carried over to the second half, and C.J. Gunn pounced on a fumble at the Bobcats’ 26. Works, two plays later, however, bobbled a slippery ball, and Andreas Taylor recovered to give the Bobcats hope.

McMillan tried to spark a sputtering Bobcat offense which had lost a net seven yards rushing the first half. But Central punted from its own 16, and the Dawgs took advantage of field position. Works’ runs set up a 30-yard TD pass to Eichholtz with 4:23 left in the third quarter, and Reagan’s kick boosted the Bulldogs’ advantage to 21-6.

Central, stunned, grew hopeful when Jonathan Saah returned a Bulldogs kick 60 yards to the BHS 21. But tough tackling by Gunn, Williamson and team captain Zack Jackson shut down that Bobcats assault, as did sparkling pass defense by Works and Jackson.

Later, Halliday tried to convert on fourth-and-five at the Bobcats’ 32, but his pass fell short, and the third quarter ended with a Bobcat first down at their own 42. Desperate to salvage the game, McMillan tried tricky reverses; but the Bulldog defense expected that. Cunningham’s tackling and Gunn’s pass defense stymied the drive.

Central’s Jermaine Kirkland faked a punt from his own 44 and carried to Bearden’s 21, but an illegal shift nullified that gain, and the Bobcats punted.

Lewis’ tackling and Jackson’s pass defense thwarted three last-gasp Bobcat drives to seal the win.

Coach Wilson later said scattered showers played no role in his team’s upset of favored Central (4-1) which, next week, must face powerful Maryville at the Rebels’ home field. Despite its winning record, the Bobcats are 0-7 against the highly-regarded Rebs in recent seasons.

Wilson praised his coaches for piecing together the Bulldogs’ most complete game yet.

“But coaches can’t do it alone,” he said of the win. “It’s these players who made it work.” .

Wilson said he was pleased to have Bunche returned to the lineup and to see Works “take advantage” of his natural aggressiveness on the playing field. “This time, we gave up no big plays.”

Bulldog running back Nathan Hamilton, who contributed key tackles, said he had started the game slowly. “But I knew the coaches expected a lot out of me this time, so when I messed up, I was determined to do better; and I bounced back,” he said.

Running back Brandon Pemberton said his teammates “pulled together a complete game,” and he was sure they would prevail again in a Science Hill game whose winner is virtually assured a playoff berth.

Bunche said he “felt so good” after a week’s absence, to have caught Halliday’s 24-yard touchdown pass. His shoulder was “not one hundred percent yet,” Bunche said, but he was anxious to practice hard Monday and added he was certain his teammates could win out now.

The Bulldogs’ swarming defense discombobulated McMillan, so his Bobcats lost yardage on 14 of their 26 runs. McMillan started by hitting three of his first four passes for 102 yards, but the Bulldog secondary responded. He went 5-for-21 the rest of the night.

Halliday proved his mettle, hitting 11 of 20 passes for 190 yards and three TDs. The Dawgs collected 15 first downs to Central’s seven and had 310 yards offense to 127.

Works, on 24 carries, had 96 yards, while Cunningham carried 11 times for 31 yards.

Eichholtz snagged three passes for 37 yards; Gray caught two for 56, and Bunche caught a 25-yarder. Each receiver scored a touchdown.

Williamson’s nine solo tackles led the Bulldogs’ defense. His tackling threw four Bobcat runners for losses, including two quarterback sacks.

Shankles contributed four tackles, two sacks; and Works sacked McMillan twice.

Cunningham and Gunn recover fumbles, and Eichholtz averaged 19.5 yards on returning kicks.


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