Kyle Thomas sat in Boyd-Buchanan's locker room Friday night. He noticed neither the cold in which he had played nor the warmth of the room. There was, though, one chill after another racing up his spine.
The Buccaneers had played a fruitless first half and were down 10-0. They tromped out of the cold in a shell-shocked funk. Thomas may not even have heard the words of encouragement uttered by coach Grant Reynolds. His mind was racing, well outpacing the thumping of his heart.
"We all went into the locker room in shock," Thomas said. "I kept thinking as a senior I can't let my last game end like this. We all thought about what we had to do."
Thomas put thoughts into action.
Three times opportunity knocked, and three times Thomas answered, and as a result the Bucs are 10-1 and playing again this Friday, hosting Friendship Christian (9-3) in a Class 2A state quarterfinal.
"We were down and he took it upon himself to get everybody excited," Reynolds said.
On a punt after their first offensive series of the second half fizzled, Thomas, a full-time cornerback and wide receiver and the team's deep-snapper, got the ball off and raced downfield.
"He hit the receiver and knocked the ball loose, and Andrew Peace recovered on about their 25," Reynolds recalled.
"I snapped the ball and there were two guys in front of me. Normally I'll go right between them, but this time I went around one of them," Thomas said, replaying the sequence. "I was sort of crouching while I ran and I saw [the punt returner] looking at the ball. I don't think he saw me. He didn't call for a fair catch, so as soon as he caught it I exploded into him."
The ensuing recovery led to a Chase Reed field goal and cut the Bucs' deficit to seven points.
"We kick off and pin them deep and it's third-and-long. They throw a pass to the right side and Kyle picks it off," Reynolds said.
The ensuing drive resulted in a tying touchdown pass from Jim Cardwell to Austin Hall.
"Within three minutes he'd given us two big plays," Reynolds said.
Rockwood went with a double reverse on fourth-and-17, a play the Bucs had drilled against all week. Only this time, it was a straight-up reverse with a fake on the third handoff.
Somehow, in stepped Thomas again.
"I had gone to the other side of the field, but the guy who had the ball was running the other way," he said. "I got blocked, but I turned around and took off."
The 6-foot, 170-pounder dropped the ball carrier at Boyd-Buchanan's 1-yard line.
"I remember thinking, 'If he scores we're down by seven again. I can't give up.' I don't quit on plays, but the guy should have scored," Thomas said. "I lunged and it probably looked like a spider monkey, but I managed to pull him down and the defense rose up and forced a field goal."
It wasn't his best game, though, he said, because he dropped a couple of passes.
"I had good moments and bad so, no, I don't think that's the best I can play," he confided.
The good outweighed the bad and provided what Reynolds later called a Boyd-Buchanan effort.
"He's a typical Boyd-Buchanan senior. He's been here since the third or fourth grade," the coach said. "He had an older brother [Cody] play here, and he has a sister [McKenna] in the ninth grade. He's one of the family.
"He comes every day and works hard. He's a good role model for the young kids. He's a leader. We were down the other night and he took it on himself to get everybody excited. He created a lot of emotion from that [first] big hit. It sparked us. He plays hard, and I think that's something the other kids see and they feed off it."
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...