It's no secret that perseverance is a requirement for any high school football team trying to beat Polk County this year. And East Ridge persevered Friday night.
The Pioneers withstood the Wildcats' bullish attack offensively, found a little offensive success themselves behind quarterback Jo Jo Tillery and outlasted Polk County 20-19 at East Ridge.
"This is a program kind of win," East Ridge coach Tracy Malone said. "Every now and then if you're going to be good, you need to beat somebody you're not supposed beat. Nobody in East Tennessee believed we were going to win this game, but 50 kids and nine coaches believed."
The Pioneers led at halftime despite Polk County having 37 plays from scrimmage to their 18. But Tillery, who had 86 yards on 18 carries, scored on a 1-yard run 14 seconds before halftime and Tad Whitaker's second extra point made it 14-13.
East Ridge, (2-2) however, fumbled on the second-half kickoff return and the first play afterward fullback Zach Miller blasted through the middle for a 45-yard touchdown run. But the Wildcats' conversion run failed, which ultimately proved to be costly.
They had to try for two because in the first half they had faked an extra point and threw an incomplete pass after their second touchdown that left the score 13-7.
"You make a tackle here, or another block there ...," Polk County coach Derrick Davis said. "I don't second-guess myself at all. You look at it now and see there were plenty of opportunities in the game you could've done something where it wouldn't come down to that."
Tillery's third TD run came with seven minutes to play. That left the Pioneers' defense a one-point lead to defend, which they did when they stopped Polk County (2-1) on fourth-and-14 at East Ridge's 44.
With the help of a roughing-the-punter call, the offense wound down the final 4:27.
"I'm extremely proud of our defense," Malone said. "Polk doesn't turn it over and we got a fumble and a pick. Offensively we made some plays when we needed to make plays. The kids just didn't quit."
The Pioneers withstood 34 carries by Miller, who ended up with 188 yards. But the Wildcats' other backs rushed for 54 yards combined, and the tean had no yards through the air.
"They out-toughed us," Davis said. "That's something we pride ourselves on. They gave us a dose of what we try to do to other people. If I had the money, I'd go to our fans and give every dollar they spent back to them. We did not play like we should."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.