By TREY WILLIAMS
KNOXVILLE – The David Crockett football program’s most successful season in its 48-year history came to an end against a red-hot opponent in below-freezing temperatures Friday at Knox Central.
Crockett’s unprecedented 12-0 record under first-year coach Hayden Chandley finally absorbed a blemish as the Bobcats clinched their third straight 5A semifinal appearance with a hard-fought 23-12 victory.
The underdog Pioneers made it a 48-minute battle. Junior quarterback Cade Larkins’ 10-yard touchdown pass to senior Micah Robinson cut Central’s lead to 14-12 with 1:53 left in the third quarter. But a draw play to Prince Kollie for the ensuing two-point conversion failed, and Central responded two minutes later with a 32-yard TD pass from Dakota Fawver to Demetrien Johnson.
Bobcats fans finally exhaled when Jarred Swislosky made a 21-yard field goal with 4:28 remaining to make it a two-score lead and conclude the game’s scoring.
“Up until they kicked the field goal – I think with about four or five minutes to go – that game was anybody’s game,” Chandley said. “I’m just so proud of our kids and the way that they battled all season long and never giving up. It’s hard now for them to realize it, but this doesn’t define our entire season.
“We’ve done so much for the community and our East Tennessee area. This little blemish isn’t gonna take that away. What we were able to accomplish this year is just second to none and it’s something that these kids and this community will never forget. I just love our kids to death and I hate it for them, because they fought, man, they played hard. But the breaks just didn’t go our way.”
Larkins, a Mr. Football finalist, passed for 251 yards and two TDs. But the speedy ‘Cats grabbed four interceptions against Larkins thanks, in part, to the Pioneers’ lack of a threat with the ground game.
The Pioneers finished with minus four yards rushing for the game.
“Speed kills,” Chandley said. “And we’ve got some speed, but man, they’ve got it everywhere. … It was definitely the best (defense) we’ve faced. In the back end they’ve got speed like we hadn’t seen all year.”
Fawver and Johnson connected for a 30-yard TD on the game’s opening drive. The Pioneers answered when Kollie caught a 19-yard TD pass from Larkins on a fourth-and-nine with 4:54 remaining in the first quarter.
Larkins ended the season 222-of-376 passing for 3,979 yards 42 TDs and a 11 interceptions. Fellow junior Donta Hackler had four catches for 89 yards and a 38-yard kickoff return. Hackler, a junior, finished the season with a team-high 71 receptions for 1,294 yards and 15 TDs.
Robinson finished the season with 56 catches for team-highs in yards (1,337) and touchdown catches (16).
“They’re extremely athletic,” Central coach Bryson Rosser said. “They can find the holes in the zone. If you play zone against ‘em the quarterback can throw it in the right hole. He makes the right reads. … He’s a Mr. Football finalist.
“And it’s hard to defend the pass every single time. They’ve got some playmakers out there.”
The Pioneers held Central’s offense to 295 yards thanks to the likes of senior linebackers Mark Seidler and John Kollie.
“We anticipated this type game,” Rosser said. “We thought it’d be back and forth. We knew they had a good offense and we have one, too. But both coaches have done a really good job scheming against one another.”
Crockett was held to 246 yards of offense.
“Coach Rosser is one of the most underrated coaches in the state,” Chandley said.
John Kollie finished the season with 42 receptions for 605 yards and five TDs. He also had 113 tackles, which was second on the team despite missing a game. Seidler led the Pioneers with 131 tackles.
Adrian Boles and fellow senior Nathaniel McClanahan led the team with four sacks apiece.
The 25-year-old Chandley spoke with pride and compassion while discussing a senior class that helped generate a historic season despite playing for its third head coach in as many seasons.
“When you talk about Mark (Seidler), Micah, John (Kollie), Adrian (Boles), Doc (Coffey) – we lost J.R. (Giles) earlier in the season – I’ve never been around a group of seniors that were able to carry us like they were, just bringing it every single day,” Chandley said. “They’ve set a standard now. The old Crockett standard was play 10 games and go on to basketball season. That’s not the case anymore. Our goal was to have to practice on Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, we didn’t get there, but they set a standard that’s gonna be carried from now on out.
“We believed the whole week. And until late in the game it was a one-score game. … We had a great season and we’re not gonna let this affect us. We’re gonna hold our heads high.”