By TREY WILLIAMS
Daniel Boone’s football team and running back Brennan Blair kept gaining steam with a first-round playoff victory on Friday while David Crockett’s season-ending derailment concluded with a hard-fought loss at Knox Central.
Blair, a junior, rushed for 150 yards and three touchdowns and returned an interception 50 yards to set up a score as the Trailblazers (7-4) rolled to a 32-3 win against Halls (7-4).
Blair scored three TDs in a 13:58 span, including 17- and 71-yarders in the second quarter. He has 134 carries for 1,165 yards (8.7 ypc) and 13 touchdowns and has rushed for at least 100 yards in each game during Boone’s six-game win-streak.
“He’s a really good football player,” Halls coach Scott Cummings said. “He does see things well and he’s got a knack for breaking tackles and absorbing blows, and he’s got enough speed to make you pay for it if you don’t tackle him.”
Blair was playing receiver when star running back Charlie Cole fractured an arm in the second game of the season against Greeneville. Cole made his return against Halls, and although he carried the ball only one time, he made a huge impact on defense and special teams. Cole had a number of tackles for loss, returned a deflected punt 35 yards for a TD, made a crushing hit for a tackle on a kick return and most likely saved a TD with a tackle way downfield.
“He practiced Wednesday when he got released,” Boone coach Jeremy Jenkins said. “He just was a good shot in the arm for us on defense. We’re not gonna throw him right to the wolves right off the bat (carrying the ball). And he and I, we talked about that.
“But I knew he could help us, especially on special teams. The lick on special teams – that kind of set the tone.”
Cole wasn’t expecting to carry the ball in the first game back. His long rush went for four yards.
“I didn’t think, honestly, I was gonna be out playing as much as I did,” Cole said. “But whenever I thought he was gonna let me start running the ball I got really excited. So did everybody else around me. So I carried it that one time and I was happy for it; I was super-happy.
“But I know where my duty lies. And whenever he says, ‘Hey, you’re gonna play D-tackle,’ I’m gonna play D-tackle then.”
Blair smiled at mention of Cole’s hit on kick coverage.
“For sure, he’s a force to be reckoned with,” Blair said.
The ‘Blazers concluded the scoring with a 57-yard pass from Jackson Jenkins to Phillip Page.
Boone got an exceptional performance from inside linebacker Devon White, who stopped talented running back Jake Parris for no gain on a fourth-and-two from the Boone 4-yard line with 1:45 left in the first quarter of a scoreless game. Defensive linemen Will Hamlin, Eli Penix, Cole Bishop and Cole had quarterback Ty Humphrey on the run early and often.
“I’m really proud of our defensive line,” Jenkins said. “That’s the group that really, really, really, really took control of the game.”
Center Mathew Masters anchored the Trailblazers’ effective offensive front.
“I feel like we’re playing the best football that we can play at the best time right now,” Masters said, “because in the playoffs you’ve gotta be able to be physical in the offensive line to win games. They were one of the more physical teams we’ve played this year.”
Boone will travel to South-Doyle on Friday. The Cherokees are coached by Clark Duncan, an Erwin product who started at Tennessee. He has a talented running back in Elijah Young, who has committed to Missouri.
Boone players say they’re still hungry. That said, winning six in a row after an injury-riddled 1-4 start against a brutal schedule is something for which to be proud.
Blair is a 1,000-yard rusher in a season he began at receiver. And Boone’s going to the second round of the playoffs after looking like a good bet for a losing season.
“Man, it’s fun,” Blair said. “It’s dream-like, for sure.”
David Crockett (Knox Central 24, David Crockett 14)
Crockett’s season-ending nightmare continued at Knox Central, although the Pioneers (7-4) snapped out of a late-season funk and took a two-touchdown lead against the defending state champions. But a number of third-and-long conversions helped the Bobcats rally for a 24-14 victory.
“We went down and battled,” Crockett coach Hayden Chandley said. “Took a 14-0 lead and just ultimately ran out of gas. There were about 5-6 plays that swung the entire game. They converted three third-and-10-plus, with the first one coming on their first scoring drive before the first half ended, and that started to swing the momentum. Later in the drive, we sacked the quarterback and it was going to be fourth-and-nine, and we grabbed his facemask. They converted another third-and-long on the third play of the second half, a drive they ended up scoring on as well.
“And then right up until the last four or five minutes it was a three-point game. We just weren’t able to get off the field when we needed too. They made a few more plays than we did and that was the difference. Hats off to Coach (Bryson) Rosser and his guys. They do a great job.”
The loss ended the careers of such seniors as quarterback Cade Larkins, receiver Donta Hackler and running back Ronquille Joyner. The class played for three head coaches and three interim coaches, but won 18 games the past two seasons. Crockett won its first two playoff games last year and advanced to the quarterfinals.
“We will miss the heck out of these seniors,” Chandley said. “They have left their legacy on this program.”
One hopes to build another legacy nearby. Larkins, who finished his career with more than 10,000 passing yards, has committed to East Tennessee State.
“Cade felt like ETSU was truly committed to wanting him from the start,” Chandley said. “He really likes Coach (Randy) Sanders and they are getting a Class A young man.”
Larkins stands No. 2 in the state in career passing yardage (11,042) and fifth in TD passes (105). Larkins, Hackler and lineman Blaine Greer will play in the 13th annual East-West All-Star Classic on Dec. 13 in Clarksville. Chandley will be on the East coaching staff.