McMinn County gave up its first points of the 2019 season in the second quarter of Friday night's game against Ooltewah.
And it was exactly what the Cherokees needed.
With just 41 yards of total offense for McMinn to that point, the Owls' touchdown at the 7:42 mark of the second quarter lit a fire under the Cherokees, in particular junior running back Jalen Hunt and the rushing attack.
Hunt finished with 150 yards on 24 carries as McMinn dominated on the ground on its way to a huge 24-14 Region 2-6A victory over host Ooltewah. The Cherokees ran the ball 51 times total for 243 yards, with a lot of those yards coming after contact.
"It all starts in the weightroom," Hunt said about his ability to break tackles. "We've been preparing for this game for two weeks, and I felt like we executed our game plan. We only have one senior on the offensive line, but they do such a great job and are the reason I'm able to do what I did."
"I'm so proud of our guys tonight; this was a total team effort," McMinn coach Bo Cagle said. "We had so many players that weren't expecting to play at all tonight that had to step up and play a big role because of injuries. Not only is that big because of the win tonight, but it is so important for experience later in the season."
The first score for Ooltewah (1-2, 1-1) came after a risky call by Cagle, who chose to go for it on fourth down from the Cherokees' 37-yard line. McMinn (3-0, 1-0) didn't convert, and four plays later the Owls punched it in on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Lane Moore.
McMinn overcame that little bit of adversity on the very next drive. After a fairly balanced attack offensively in the first three possessions, the Cherokees kept the ball on the ground for the rest of the first half.
The result was two touchdowns to close out the half. The first came on a 1-yard run by Will Harris ending a nine-play, 80-yard drive. The second gave the visitors a 14-7 halftime lead. Parker Manney scored on a 4-yard run after a Hunt interception set his team up on a short field.
The McMinn defenders kept their foot on the gas out of the locker room. Another interception by Hunt and a lengthy return led to his own 10-yard rushing score three plays later.
Ooltewah came back with a touchdown — a 3-yard run from Jaquan Greenhill — to cut the deficit back to seven points.
McMinn's running attack was too much. In the final quarter and a half, the Cherokees ran the ball 25 times to just three passes. While this led only to three points, it drained the clock and the defense did the rest by holding the Owls scoreless the rest of the way.
"This is such a huge win in the region," Cagle said. "We haven't made the playoffs in a while, and getting a win like this in the first region game against such a quality opponent is so important for our guys."
Contact Kevin Llewallyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.