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Time dashes Bearden quest
Storybook comeback falls short on controversial onside kickoff call

SMYRNA — Heart, talent and a frantically successful passing attack came together at the very end for Bearden and almost set the TSSAA football playoff world on its head with an amazing comeback.

But that heart was torn to bits by a controversial call in a 17-14 loss to Smryna in the Class 5A state semifinals Friday, Nov. 30.

Down 17-0 with 5:55 remaining in the game and starting at its own 24, BHS went 76 yards and scored with 3:55 left, then recovered an onside kick and marched 50 yards to score with 1:17 to play.

As he had done moments earlier, Bearden kicker Jon Michael Craze got the desired high bounce on his second onside kick attempt, and after a BHS player flipped Smyrna’s Jesse Torres upon his recovery attempt, Torres apparently lost the ball coming down.

Torey Works was among three Bearden players seemingly recovering the ball as the Maroon Nation faithful were rocking.

No. Smyrna ball.

“I don’t know what that call was … right there when we kicked the second onside because me and Aaron Gray and Preston Rouse both had the ball, and there was only one purple jersey around there,” Works said after the game, as one official simply signaled Smyrna’s ball.

“I thought we recovered it. I guess they ruled him down, they really didn’t say. It was a difficult night,” BHS head coach Brad Taylor said as he calmly answered post-game questions despite the controversy. “I would like to have gotten a couple more calls our way, but, you know, you can’t cry over spilled milk.”

The loss, ending the longest Bulldog playoff march in school history (12-2 final record), overshadows a Bearden defense that held a highly touted SHS offense to just 10 points — none in the second half — and only 151 total yards.

“I’d say our defense is best in the state,” BHS senior defensive tackle/offensive lineman Peter Shankles said. “We just had to figure out their offense in the first few [minutes].”

Taylor added, ‘Our defense played fantastic. We gave ’em 14 points. Silly things. But once we got settled down, we were able to make some plays. We just needed to make one more than we did. … We had some bad breaks, but sometimes that happens.”

Bearden limited All-state receiver and Tennessee commitment Rod Wilks to four catches for 80 yards and no touchdowns — one of those for 60 yards. Smyrna’s rushing attack, led by freshman Jeremiah Bryson, managed just 17 net yards on 30 carries, as the Bulldog defense had 10 minus yardage stops.

As for Wilks, “I think the main thing was just to try and get after the quarterback and limit Wilks’ touches,” Taylor said. “Right after the first, our corners played well. We tried to give ’em safety help over the top so they [cornerbacks] could kinda hold ’em up underneath.”

Sonny Gray, SHS All-state quarterback, was sacked five times while competing 9-of-12 passes for 131 yards and one touchdown. Alex Goltry and Matt Williamson, Bearden defensive linemen, sacked Gray twice each, and fellow lineman Shankles had the other sack, as the BHS Bulldogs pressured Gray much of the game.

Taylor labeled Goltry “so quick and strong, he makes a lot of plays at that defensive tackle spot,” while naming Williamson his top overall player for the game.

Reflecting on 2007, Taylor said, “This Bearden team’s won more games in a season than any Bearden team. Won a region, hadn’t been done in a long time, so they’ve got a lot to be proud of.”

Among BHS football history, Taylor said the 2007 Bulldogs are “at the top right now. They weren’t going to give up. They were fun to watch, and they’ve had a fantastic year. They have a lot to be proud of.

“They’ve done some things a lot of teams haven’t done. It’s been a while since Knoxville’s been represented in the semifinals.”

As for the comeback, Bearden senior quarterback Dawson Halliday found Cory Eichholtz on a 25-yard TD reception for the first BHS score on a drive that also included a 23-yard pass to Darius DuBose and 13-yard strike to Eichholtz.

Halliday hit C.J. Gunn on a slant pattern for a 9-yard TD reception after the successful onside kick on the 50-yard drive also highlighted by Works’ 24-yard catch and Eichholtz’s 11-yard reception on fourth-and-10.

Despite the controversial call, BHS did get the ball back and were painfully close to placekicker Brandon Reagan’s field goal range when Halliday fired a deep pass to the Smyrna 28. It was almost caught, but fell incomplete.

Halliday, one of 26 BHS seniors from what many players and Taylor labeled a special class, finished 16-of-36 passing for 183 yards. Works rushed 15 times for 49 yards, as Bearden ended with 285 total yards offense.

Brandon Pemberton’s 51-yard run on BHS’s second possession landed Bearden at the Smyrna 26, but a lost fumble at the 15 ended the drive.

The Bulldogs also had an apparent 46-yard touchdown catch by Gunn down the left sideline wiped out when the senior receiver was ruled to have stepped out of bounds prior to the catch. That came less than a minute into the fourth quarter.

Smyrna, improving to 11-3 overall heading to the title game Saturday versus Independence, used Wilks’ 62-yard punt return to set up Gray’s 20-yard TD pass to Jonah Hendricks as SHS went up 7-0 on its first possession with 9:52 left in the first quarter.

After Wilks’ 60–yard pass reception to the BHS 24, the Bulldogs managed a goal-line stand — holding Smyrna on two downs despite needing less than a yard for a first down — as Bearden took over at the SHS 4 with 4:51 left in the first quarter.

But a Smyrna interception set up a 35-yard field goal to make it 10-0 with 10:30 left in the firsts half.

A Bearden fumble was scooped up by Wilks, who also plays defensive back, as the SHS senior went 24 yards to make it 17-0 with 3:52 left in the half.

Halliday, one of several emotional Bulldogs following the game, said it was “really hard” not to be bitter about how the game ended, but added it was a “great season.”

“This team has never been one to give up,” Halliday added. “We wanted to lean on each other when we’re down. These guys have been so close.”

Taylor and a handful of BHS players reflected on a special BHS senior class — with one Bulldog senior paying a special tribute.

“It’s a fantastic bunch of seniors,” Taylor said. “You don’t have a group like that come along very often. These guys, they know how to fight, and they play hard and football means a lot to ’em.”

As for his fellow seniors, Shankles added, “They’re great, I love every one of them. We’ve been playing together for a while, and we’ve built such a strong bond. I would do anything for these guys. It was just a great opportunity to play with them.”

Williamson, also a senior, said “we’re family, and when I say that I mean we’re brothers. This ain’t gonna stop after this game. I’m going to be brothers with these guys for the rest of my life, ‘till the day I die.

“Sometimes the ball doesn’t drop on your side, and tonight was one of those nights,” Williamson added.

Senior linebacker Nathan Hamilton said, “Even after this we’ll probably stick together. We’re not going to break up after this, we’re a family. I’d say more than half of us have been playing together since the sixth-, seventh-grade.”

Senior defensive tackle Josh Kelton gave credit to his former coach.

“To tell you the truth, I give all the credit to Bill Wilson,” Kelton said of the former BHS head coach who died unexpectedly last spring. “He’s the one that taught us everything we’ve done this year. Everything he’s done has brought us together and just made it an amazing senior class.

“He was just an amazing coach and an amazing person, he was a man of God.”


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