In the beginning, Ooltewah's best offense was its defense Friday night.
After Brainerd stunned them with an opening trick play, the Owls' defense scored twice and set up two other first-half scores, and Ooltewah rolled to a 41-7 victory in the first week of the TSSAA football season.
Ooltewah's first two touchdowns were 25- and 55-yard first-quarter fumble returns by David Strickland and Alex Doss.
A three-and-out series and a 15-yard punt set up Callum Wishart's 37-yard field goal with 10 minutes to go in the half. He added a 28-yarder later in the second quarter on the 10th play after Ooltewah's defense forced another three plays and a punt, and the lead was 20-7 at halftime.
Owls quarterback Bradley Stephens was 12-for-22 passing for 209 yards. Seventy-one of those yards came courtesy of a long run for a touchdown by T.J. Davis after hauling in a screen pass.
Ooltewah ran for 190 yards on 41 rushes, including two 1-yard scoring runs in the second half by Desmond Pittman. Three backs had at least 41 rushing yards, topped by Pittman's 101 on 18 carries.
Coach Shannon Williams said he knew coming in his team's defense was ahead of the offense.
"I thought we may have set a record for offensive penalties, but we played through it and kept moving the chains," Williams said. "I'm proud of our offensive line. We ran the ball really well. We got some hats on hats and moved those guys around."
The Panthers had the ball on their 31 after the opening kickoff and opened with a double-reverse pass. Samuel Caffey spotted quarterback Maleek Rooks all alone behind Ooltewah's secondary for a 7-0 Brainerd lead.
"They schemed us right there," Williams said.
Brainerd coach Stanley Jackson wasn't totally displeased, noting the numbers edge for larger school Ooltewah. He also pointed out he had some young players learning on the job, including two freshman starters.
"Our linebacking has to improve," Jackson said. "The last couple of years we've had some good linebackers, but they've graduated and gone away. We've got some freshmen and some sophomores there and we've got to bring them up. We've got to get them playing at a high school level."
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.