Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Aug. 27, 2010 - McMinn County's Desmond McBee is tackled by McCallie's Will Bruce and Jalen Kellum in second quarter action at McCallie.
McMinn County cashed in a big scoring opportunity in the final three minutes of the Cherokees’ high school football game Friday at McCallie. Then the Blue Tornado cashed in a bigger one.
Both teams struggled converting opportunities throughout most of the night, but Garrett Hicks’ 12-yard scoring run with 1:21 to play proved to be the difference in McCallie’s 13-9 victory.
McMinn County (1-1) had taken a 9-6 lead when Conar Roberts’ 39-yard field goal at the 2:16 mark of the fourth quarter barely cleared the crossbar. Cherokees coach Bo Cagle said he’s not sure if Roberts had kicked one that far in practice before. Nor was the coach sure if he would’ve called for a field goal if he had known the kick would’ve come from 39 yards.
Two Blue Tornado players were around the ball on the ensuing kickoff with each thinking the other was going to take it. Ultimately Trell Gardenhire picked up the ball, found a seam and returned it 41 yards to McMinn County’s 42.
The first play afterward was a 27-yard connection from Trent Lusk to Keenan Hale. Hale finished the night with 94 yards on four catches.
The Cherokees stiffened and had McCallie (1-0) looking at third-and-7 when Lusk ran an option around left end. He then pitched to Hicks, who cut back through an opening and went in standing up. Daniel McClure’s inside running — 24 carries for 136 yards — set it up.
“We had had some success with it,” Whitt said of the play call. “There was a time or two we missed a block. There was a time or two we didn’t read the block. That was one of those times where everything fit. We got the block, the back cut it up and Trent made a good read.”
Hicks also had a 34-yard punt return early in the fourth quarter that led to Lusk’s 2-yard scoring run that tied the score at 6 with 9:39 to play. The extra point, like McCallie’s 37-yard field goal in the first quarter and its 38-yarder in the second, missed to the left.
Hicks had dropped the first punt of the game and that led to McMinn County’s first score.
“Garrett drops the punt but came back with a big punt return and the touchdown run,” Whitt said. “We had a lot of kids just hang in there, and when it came down to opportunities at the end, we took advantage of them.”
The Cherokees’ touchdown was a 6-yard keeper around left end by Drew Masingale, who was 3-for-3 for 31 yards on the 41-yard drive.
“We just didn’t make plays when we needed to make plays,” Cagle said. “It happens. We had more drops than we probably should’ve had. We’ve got a young team. They played hard. We can fix all that other stuff.
“What I was proud of was we never gave up. We knew we could play a little football. We didn’t know if we had the guts to go for four quarters. We do now.”
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.