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’Dawgs convert early Hilltopper mistakes into 42-13 region win

JOHNSON CITY — The Bearden Bulldogs proved they could win convincingly on the road by striking early and often in their 42-13 victory, Friday, Sept. 29, over Science Hill’s Hilltoppers at SHHS.

Playing far from home for the first time this season, the Bulldogs (5-2 overall, 3-1 in Region 1-5A) pounced on three of six first-half Toppers fumbles and converted well to score on the first six BHS possessions. All Bearden touchdowns came on runs.

When SH quarterback A.J. Tucker fell and fumbled on the Toppers’ first play from scrimmage, Bearden alertly recovered at the SH 14. Just two plays later, Bulldog junior running back Torey Works, a team workhorse all season, scored the first of his three TDs against Science Hill (3-3, 0-3).

That play set the pace for a brisk night in the Tri-Cities when three Bearden defenders – Danne Blocksma, Peter Malloy and Brandon Pemberton – all came up with Toppers fumbles.

On the Toppers’ next possession, Tucker tried to make a game of it by connecting with Caleb Mancuso for a 62-yard lightning strike to the Bulldogs’ 1. That set up David Alexander for the score, and Neil Littleford’s kick tied it.

But the Bulldogs’ Brandon Pemberton, not to be outdone, then capped an impressive 79-yard BHS drive with his own 7-yard run, and Brandon Reagan kicked Bearden to a lead they would never lose.

When the Toppers fumbled again, Bulldog quarterback Dawson Halliday engineered a 59-yard drive culminating in Halliday’s own two-yard sneak into the SH end zone. Again, the Toppers fumbled, and Halliday capitalized on agile Works’ running ability to boost the halftime edge to 28-7, Bearden.

The Toppers, at break, may have envisioned thoughts of a second-half comeback on their own field; but those hopes vanished when the Bulldogs, facing fourth-and-3 at Science Hill’s 30, put the ball back in Works’ capable hands. He responded with a 30-yard touchdown dash.

Following his teammate’s example, Sean Cunningham, later in the third quarter, found ample running room outside Toppers defenders and raced for a 54-yard score. with 3:30 left in the third period.

Bearden head coach Bill Wilson, sensing a “W,” pulled Bulldog starters, including Halliday, for a rest and let three other quarterbacks – Ryan Potter, Logan Maynard and Andrew Lowe – take snaps. Potter quickly rose to the occasion, completing two of three passes for 20 yards. Maynard connected, too, on his 10-yarder.

In the final quarter, Tucker desperately tried to muster his Toppers’ offense, but except for his own late 39-yard TD, the Toppers’ tank proved empty. Even their final point-after try failed, leaving Bearden to celebrate a lopsided 42-13 win.

Wilson said later he was surprised to have won so handily over coach John Bowles’ “good looking team with some good athletes.” The difference, he said, was “they turned the ball over to us, and we made the most of it tonight.”

The “Bill-Dawgs,” by contrast, had no turnovers.

“We stripped the ball pretty good that first half,” Wilson said of his motivated defenders. “It’s a win in a game we weren’t really sure about, going in.”

The Dawgs, last season, had narrowly escaped at home with a 9-7 win over the Toppers. This season’s win, Wilson said, is important to keep his Bulldogs in their chase for playoffs with October games first at Campbell County (2-3) and, later, at Sevier County (5-1) who beat Campbell County 28-12 Friday.

“At this point in the season, I’d really hoped we’d be seven-and-0. But I’ll sure take five-and-two. We should come out of every game now better than we were the week before, if we just take care of business on the field.”

Wilson said Works’ three TDs came as part of a laudable 119-yard rushing performance. That, plus Works’ 8-yard catch, kept his seasonal 6.42-yard per-carry rushing record intact.

Michael Lewis, who caught three passes for 39 yards, also led all tacklers with nine, including four solos, three of those sacks.

For his part, Halliday completed 14 of 17 passes accounting for 113 of the Dawgs’ formidable 364-yard offense. Halliday now is 91 of 162 passing for a 966-yard season total.

The Toppers managed 254 yards of offense, while he Bulldogs posted 18 first downs to the Toppers’ 10.


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