After Friday night's development at Ooltewah, McMinn County is in as good of shape in the District 5-AAA high school football standings as the Owls are in bad shape.
The Cherokees won 35-24 and are 2-0 in the district standings.
Injury-plagued Ooltewah fell to 0-2.
"This was huge," said McMinn coach Bo Cagle, whose team is 4-1 overall. "We knew this might be down to the district championship this early in the year. Ooltewah has a good team. We knew we were going to have some problems with them, but to be 2-0 going into our bye week is huge for us. Ooltewah going to 0-2 kills them."
In addition to suffering injuries to some frontline players - for instance, leading rusher T.J. Davis missed the game with an ankle injury and more were added to the list Friday - Ooltewah (2-3) has been its own worst enemy at times this year.
The Owls picked up three turnovers, including a 42-yard interception return for a touchdown by Stewart Doss, but they turned the ball over four times. And they were penalized seven times for 80 yards compared to McMinn's three times for 34 yards.
"We had a really good week of practice, too, which makes it more disappointing," Ooltewah coach Shannon Williams said. "We played pretty well in the first half. We just didn't tackle well.
"It's not one group's fault. We squandered some good field position. Early on we got down inside the 30 twice and only got three points out of it. That's not good offense, either."
Ooltewah led by Laszlo Toser's 37-yard field goal after one quarter, but McMinn struck for three touchdowns in the second and went to halftime with a 19-10 lead. The Owls' defensive score had them within two going to the fourth quarter, but Bubba Cooper's 27-yard field goal with 9:36 left, Dre Hall's 40-yard interception return 1:36 later and Dre Sanders' 10-yard touchdown run at the 5:38 mark stretched the lead to 35-17.
"I felt like our defense was lights out the whole time," Cagle said. "Right now we're going to have to rely on defense to be our turning point because we have so many new faces on offense."
Walker Valley transfer Kelvin Wells Jr. led McMinn's dual-threat rushing attack with 136 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Sanders added 120 on 20 carries and caught a 16-yard scoring pass from Corbin Powers.
Williams called a timeout with 4:45 to play and had a quick heart-to-heart meeting with his players, who made a defensive stand and got a 4-yard scoring run from Desmond Pittman in the remaining time.
"I felt like our energy was waning," Williams said. "We let them go right down and score on us. I kind of reminded them of the character they needed to have and how they were expected to go out and play."