The Tyner team that strolled into East Ridge on Friday was one part short-handed, one part humbled and one part - well, just a little bit angry.
The Rams left with a little bit of a smile and a hard-fought, old-school defensive 12-7 victory over an equally tough East Ridge team.
When Rams coach Wayne Turner smiled and said it had been an "interesting" week on the practice field, it didn't take an interpreter to know some of the Tyner players went home a little light in the rear ends each night.
Tyner (1-3) avoided being the first Rams team in 37 years to lose four straight to open a season, but it took an 80-yard Bobby Hendricks kickoff return for a score with just 4:36 left to ensure it didn't happen.
"Hey, I'm a senior so it [the 0-3 start] hurts. I knew I needed to make something happen," said Hendricks, who broke several tackles, made a magnificent spin move at midfield and kicked in for the deciding score. "We played too well on defense to lose this one. If we were going to make the playoffs, we had to have this one."
Turner suspended five Tyner starters before the game and had two others injured and in street clothes. He said he felt the discipline was a big key to the win.
"You know, we were 0-3 with them so it couldn't be any worse, but I think it got the others' attention," Turner said. "This is the best we have played defensively. We really got after it."
Did they ever.
The swarming Rams held the Pioneers without a first down until halfway through the third period, and it took 10 plays into the second half before East Ridge was on the positive side of the ledger in yards. East Ridge (1-3) checked into the dressing room at the half with minus-19 yards of offense.
In fact, only five of the 15 plays the Pioneers ran in the initial half resulted in positive yardage.
Nonetheless, the score was just 6-0 at the break thanks to an equally stingy Pioneers effort on defense. With the exception of Joseph Sturkey's 62-yard run in the first quarter, Tyner managed just 54 yards in the half. East Ridge also limited Tyner to 65 yards in the second half and looked poised to pull off the win.
After failing to convert a single third-down conversion (0-for-10), East Ridge scored on a fourth-and-11 from the 17, quarterback Eric McCurdy hooking up with Avarious Griffin on a nice pitch-and-catch in the corner of the end zone with 4:55 left. The PAT gave the Pioneers a 7-6 lead.
It was short-lived. Hendricks' return took all of 19 seconds, and the Rams defense held up to the end.
East Ridge had 17 tackles for lost yardage in the game, and Tyner had 11 as the backfields stayed crowded with defenders.
The Pioneers defense was led by Torrey Hughes with four tackles for losses and a forced fumble. Tyner got four tackles behind the line from Courtney Heard, who also forced a fumble and recovered one.