KNOXVILLE — Bearden High School’s victory loomed large Saturday night, Aug. 19. The Bulldogs were facing a longtime rival for the first time in three years.
And the last time Bearden played West High, the Bulldogs, who were in a rebuilding mode, were embarrassed by the Rebels, who would eventually end up in the Class 5A championship game.
But Bearden turned the tables over the weekend with a 17-3 victory at West before a capacity crowd and a local TV audience at Bill Wilson Field.
“This feels amazing. They’ve always been a rival for us,” said senior running back and linebacker Sam Coffin, who was a freshman the last time that the Rebels tangled with the Bulldogs, with West claiming a 54-19 victory in 2014. “The last time that we played West, they came in and really bullied us, but tonight we bullied them.”
Bearden (1-0) set the tone early with its offense. The Bulldogs took the early lead when Collin Ironside threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Dawson Houser with 9 minutes, 43 seconds remaining in the first quarter. The scoring strike culminated a five-play, 80-yard drive, and would ultimately be one of BHS’s biggest offensive plays of the day.
From there the Bulldogs’ defense and special teams would steal the show. Bearden made things miserable for the host Rebels. On its first possession, West would manage to muster a first down before Ethan Parker would block a West punt.
The Rebels fumbled on their next possession and Bearden’s A.J. Simon recovered deep in Rebel territory.
Bearden’s Caleb Wilkins would help the Bulldogs cash in a short time later when he kicked a 21-yard field goal to make the score 10-0 with 3:07 remaining in the opening frame.
Bearden’s defense went on to force the Rebels into three more turnovers as Coffin, Eric Clark and Nick Ingrado each had interceptions.
Senior Nate Adkins also had a crucial sack which all but ended West’s comeback effort. The Bulldogs held the Rebels to just 19 rushing yards.
West quarterback Drake Peer did amass 182 passing yards, including 63 on West’s final possession, which was thwarted when Ingrado picked off Peer’s pass in the end zone.
The game was a bit sloppy at times as the Bulldogs and Rebels combined to commit 26 penalties. But Bearden coach Morgan Shinlever said, he was pleased with his squad’s effort, especially on defense, which turned the Rebels away three times after West started drives on Bearden’s side of midfield.
“I have to give it to our defense. They played their hearts out,” Shinlever said. “They really stepped up for us tonight when they were in some tough situations.
“In the first game, the team that makes the fewest mistakes usually wins. I think we were the more disciplined team tonight. We held a really good team to just three points.”
Up 10-3, Bearden scored late in the second frame on a 1-yard run by D.J. Cox, which was set up by Coffin’s interception.