Sequoyah had to hold on, withstanding a furious second-half rally, but the visiting Chiefs locked down at least a fourth-place spot for the Class 4A postseason with a 38-29 win Thursday at East Ridge.
The Chiefs repeatedly threw strong one-two punches at the Pioneers and bounded to a 31-6 halftime advantage. That repeated combination consisted of running back Josh Stakely, who dominated the Pioneers with a 227-yard rushing performance that was balanced by quarterback John Douglas Wiggins' five TD passes.
"It starts up front with the offensive line," Sequoyah coach Bobby White said, fully aware that much of Stakely's yardage came after an initial hit. "And with the passing, J.D. had the receivers getting open and was hitting them."
Although he had a tremendous rushing night and was held out of the end zone, Stakely repeatedly set the stage for Wiggins, who finished 14-of-22 for 158 yards with touchdown passes to Trevor Stakely (two), Justin Floyd and Nic Kirkland (two).
The loss leaves the Pioneers with a scramble for the postseason ahead of them in the form of must-win games against Howard and Hixson the next two weeks.
"We have to win out. If we do we should finish No. 4," said East Ridge coach Tim James, whose team started the season 5-0 but now has lost three straight. "It was a tough night, but I'm proud of our kids."
He's justifiably proud because the Pioneers responded to a halftime speech when he challenged them not to quit on each other.
Whereas they were outscored by 25 in the first two quarters, they put up 23 in the second half while holding the Chiefs to one score.
When asked to describe his team's first half showing — in which the Pioneers gave away two scoring opportunities — James one-worded it: "Uninspired."
He was similar in his description of the second half: "Inspired.
"I'm disappointed that we lost — I hate to lose — but what these kids did in the second half was phenomenal," he said. "They were down 31-6 and everybody had the opportunity to fold the tent. They didn't, and that was special."
Though he threw two interceptions — one in the Chiefs' end zone — quarterback Eric Bennett led the Pioneers' comeback, finishing with 263 yards and four touchdown passes. He threw one to Kashaun Cosey that gave the Pioneers an early lead, one that was quickly erased, and three to athletic Alonzo Russell. Cosey finished with 149 receiving yards and Russell had 71.
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him on Twitter @wardgossett.