Boyd Buchanan came into Friday night's showdown against visiting Chattanooga Christian School with a lot more than bragging rights on the line, and the host Buccaneers came away with a 35-14 win to improve to 6-0 this season.
Reclaiming the challenge trophy — a spray-painted tire held by the winner between these two teams each year — was just icing on the cake.
Boyd Buchanan running back Jaylon Sanderfer rushed 12 times for 125 yards and three touchdowns, including the only two scores in the first half, as the home team capitalized on key mistakes by CCS to earn a huge Division II-AA East Region win. The Bucs, with a state ranking of No. 4 in DII-AA, are now 3-0 in the region.
"As you can see by the final score, those first 14 points were very important," Sanderfer said. "After halftime, we played like it was still 0-0 and had to come out and keep it up, and that's exactly what we did."
The first half was a slog as both teams looked to establish a running game against tough defenses. The Bucs and Chargers (3-3, 2-2) combined for five three-and-out possessions and eight punts, plus an unsuccessful CCS fake punt.
Boyd Buchanan took the lead after a long punt return by Sebastian Jones set the Bucs up at the CCS 16-yard line. Five plays later, Sanderfer got them on the board with a 2-yard dive with 6:53 remaining in the half.
"We were determined not to make any mistakes in the first half," Boyd Buchanan coach Gary Rankin said. "We just ran the ball up in there, and they did, too, for whatever reason. Everybody was just waiting on somebody to make a mistake."
After the teams traded punts again, another miscue hurt the Chargers when running back LD Hollingsworth fumbled late in the second quarter. The Bucs put together a quick four-play drive, capped by Sanderfer running 21 yards to the end zone with 52 seconds remaining to give the home team a 14-0 lead at the break.
"We didn't really do a good job of holding on to the ball in the first half and made some boneheaded mistakes to kill some drives when we still had a chance to be in the game," CCS coach Grant Reynolds said.
In the second half, both offenses began to come to life. The Bucs struck quickly on a three-play drive to start the half with Jatavious Davis scoring on a 46-yard run, but CCS answered quickly and scored on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Gavin Berger to Jermaine Stinson.
Sanderfer's third touchdown of the game on a 21-yard run made it 28-7 .
"When he wants to play, he's just about as good as anybody around," Rankin said. "He's strong running and has great vision, and he can take over a game sometimes."
Boyd Buchanan took advantage of a an interception to set up its final score, a 9-yard run by Sebastian Jones with 4:51 remaining.
CCS leaned heavily on Hollingsworth and its running game early, and he finished with 24 carries for 112 yards and a 19-yard touchdown to cap the scoring with 2:19 to play.
Rankin, TSSAA football's all-time leader in wins and state titles, is in his second year at Boyd Buchanan. He said his team has continued to play well all season, but that there's also a lot of work left to do as the playoffs approach.
"This is big for the program (to be 6-0). I don't know how long it's been," he said. "We haven't had very many turnovers, and we're playing good defense. We're fairly healthy ... and we just have to keep this momentum going."
Contact Jim Tanner at email@example.com.