By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
Quarterback Blake Byrd ran for two touchdowns and passed for two more, but the Yellow Jackets had to hold on late when Hayden put on a fourth-quarter rally, hanging on to win 28-22 and break a six-year losing streak against their arch-rivals from Blount County.
Byrd scored on a 1-yard sneak five minutes into the game, then found Kerry Smith open with blown coverage for a 47-yard touchdown.
Byrd scored again from the five early in the second quarter, as he reversed his field and cut sharply into the end zone. Two minutes later, he connected with Smith again, this time on a post pattern that went 83 yards for the score.
Hayden didn't get a first down until the 6:07 mark of the second quarter, but that started off a 14-play, 70-yard drive that ended with quarterback Corey Ward diving for the pylon from three yards out with 2:20 left in the first half.
The Wildcats turned around a lackluster effort in the first half, keeping the host team from getting good field position.
“We just didn’t play in the first half,” Hayden coach Steve Kerby said. “We were flat dead. We just changed our mental approach to the game in the second half.”
Hayden found paydirt again when Ward passed to Luke aWall for a 13-yard touchdown with 7:07 to play in the game. Then, after getting excellent field position when Corner punter Troy Elliott shanked a punt for just two yards, the Wildcats took advantage of a pair of personal fouls on the Jackets. Dylan Putnam, seeing his first extended playing time as a running back, finished the drive with a 1-yard plunge up the middle.
“Putnam hasn’t been in there much because of injuries, but he’s a fighter and wants to get in there. He just needs more reps,” Kerby said.
Corner then ran out the clock, thanks in part to a face-mask penalty on the Wildcats that gave up a crucial first down.
For first-year Corner coach Zac Willis, the end of the game brought a sigh of relief.
“We had some big passes in the first half, where we caught them in some coverage situations where they were in a bind,” Willis said. “In the second half, all we did was hang on. They [Hayden] made some adjustments in the second half and just shut us down. Hats off to their kids, because they were down 28-0 and were still fighting, playing their butts off to the end.”
Breaking the six-game losing streak against the Wildcats has been foremost in his players’ minds since they first hit the field this season, Willis said.
“I think my athletes played about as hard as they ever have. They had their backs to the wall. They said at the start of the season that this was the one game they had marked that they wouldn’t lose again,” Willis said.
Byrd had 11 yards on 24 rushes, and was 14-for-21 passing with an interception and 249 yards. Smith caught eight passes for 208 yards, the first 200-plus receiving effort by a Corner player since the turn of the century.
Ward was 13-for-37 in passing for 116 yards. Wall had five receptions for 67 yards, and Putnam gained 55 yards on 11 carries.
The Yellow Jackets had 408 yards total offense, compared to the Wildcats’ 186. However, Corner was penalized 16 times for 140 yards.
Corner (2-3) hosts Oak Grove next week, while Hayden (0-5) travels to Walker.
[Updated: 5:5 p.m. Oct. 1 to correct typo and editing error.]