Every time Anderson County questioned Ooltewah's playoff mettle, the Owls had an answer.
Ooltewah overcame an early 14-point deficit thanks to its defense and special teams that scored three touchdowns. The Owls pulled away late for a 47-28 win in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs Friday night at James N. Monroe Stadium.
Ooltewah (8-3) travels to Lenoir City next Friday. The Mavericks' season ended at 5-6.
"Our defense was the star of the night," said Ooltewah coach Shannon Williams, whose unit made five interceptions. "They scored twice and we played really good defense in the second half."
The Mavericks jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on an Andy Long 1-yard run and a 9-yard TD pass from Micah Hodge to Bradley Strickland.
The Owls first scored when Jeremiah Jackson's pressure forced an interception to T.J. Davis, who returned it 28 yards and a 14-6 deficit.
A Stewart Doss pickoff on Hodge's next pass set up a 23-yard scoring strike from Brody Binder to Mike Williams. Doss's return of an interception late in the fourth quarter put the game away. The TD was his fifth score from an interception on the season.
"He's got an uncanny knack for getting under the football," Williams said. "And they're always plays when we need energy."
The Mavericks tied the game at 20 on a Hodge TD pass with 9.4 seconds left in the second quarter. The stalemate evaporated when Phillip McClain returned the ensuing kickoff 72 yards as time expired.
"We tied it up and it felt like we grasped the momentum," Anderson County coach Davey Gillum said. "Then they run [the kickoff] back and all of the momentum got flushed out of us right before halftime."
To refer to junior Desmond Pittman as Ooltewah's workhorse is to suggest cruelty to animals. The bruising tailback rushed 38 times for 160 yards and a touchdown.
"That's as good an offensive line and running back as we've seen all year," Gillum said.
When Pittman wasn't breaking tackles for positive gains, he was drawing enough attention to open the passing game. Binder finished with a rushing score and two scoring passes to Williams and completed 7 of 14 throws for 109 yards.
The Mavericks had more total yards than Ooltewah, 331 to 282. Hunter McIntosh paced the Mavs with nine catches for 115 yards.