By TREY WILLIAMS
David Crockett’s football team will be taking aim at the program’s first undefeated regular season Friday, and now it has a musket to finish the job.
In a Musket Bowl exceeding the hype that helped fuel cars being lined up from David Crockett to downtown Jonesborough some 80 minutes before kickoff, the Pioneers improved to 9-0 on the season and clinched Region 1-5A’s top playoff seed with a 34-27 defeat of Daniel Boone on Friday at Pioneer Field.
The victory also assured Crockett (5-0, 9-0) at least a share of the Mountain Lakes Conference championship, which it can clinch outright with a win at Morristown East in the regular season finale on Friday. Boone (4-1, 7-2), which will also host a first-round playoff game as the No. 2 seed, will host Cherokee on Friday.
Crockett’s defense was missing leading tackler John Kollie against Boone. The timing of his suspension created as much controversy as Washington County’s heated rivalry has seen since the 2015 Musket Brawl that landed both teams postseason bans.
The Pioneers also lost fellow captain J.R. Giles – a disrupter on defense – to an injury in the first half.
But the Trailblazers and Pioneers each appeared focused and composed, and there were no shenanigans in a critical game despite the body-jarring hits of players such as Crockett’s Tony Davis and Prince Kollie.
Cade Larkins completed 33 of 47 passes for 410 yards and four touchdowns and fellow junior Donta Hackler tallied 12 receptions for 167 yards and three TDs.
“This is the happiest I’ve been in a long time,” Larkins said.
Hackler’s 41-yard TD catch with 2:38 left on a second-and-10 gave Crockett a 32-27 lead, and Mark Seidler’s two-point conversion reception from Larkins concluded the scoring.
“It feels great,” said Hackler, who is being recruited steadily by Cincinnati. “All we’ve been hearing is Boone this, Boone that. We were playing for John, playing for J.R. It’s emotional.”
Crockett seemed to be in control when Hackler’s 15-yard TD reception gave the Pioneers a 26-14 lead with 7:31 to go.
But junior Charlie Cole, a bruising speedster, dashed 74 yards for a TD on the ensuing play from scrimmage. Crockett blocked the PAT kick to preserve a 26-20 lead.
However, three plays later, the Trailblazers’ Daniel Lusk made a diving interception at the Boone 42-yard line. Two plays after the turnover, quarterback Easton Harrell dashed 56 yards for a TD. The PAT gave the ‘Blazers a 27-26 lead with 5:18 left.
“We were up two touchdowns in the second half and everything’s going our way,” said first-year Crockett coach Hayden Chandley, who played on back-to-back quarterfinalists at Boone as a junior and senior (2009-10). “And the next thing you know, we’re down a point. And we marched right down the field after that and retook the lead. …
“I tell you, man, our kids have battled so much adversity in the past year or so. They just never quit and never give up. Even up through this week, you know, we’re still battling stuff, and the kids never lost sight of what the task was at hand.”
Senior receiver Micah Robinson had eight catches for 106 yards and a TD. Sophomore Prince Kollie made eight catches for 90 yards.
Boone was led by Cole, who rushed for 170 yards. Harrell added 133 yards and two TDs, and Brennan Blair’s 6-yard TD run via a reverse got Boone within 20-14 with 10:24 to left.
“They had a lot of fight,” Robinson said. “Easton and Charlie did a great job doing what they do best.”
Boone’s coach was impressed with a Crockett squad that didn’t quit or panic when Boone rallied to take a one-point lead.
“My hat’s off to Hayden,” said Boone coach Jeremy Jenkins, who coached Chandley at Boone (class of 2011). “His kids played hard and showed a lot of resiliency right there. In the past sometimes when we go up there they’ve had a tendency to fold. They came right back at us. We just didn’t make the plays when we had to on defense, and that’s all on me. That’s my side of the ball. That’s what we pride ourselves on. …
“I’m proud of Hayden and what he’s done, and they’ve got a good thing going down here right now. Hopefully, both of us can make a run in the playoffs and we can get back against each other.”
Certainly, a rematch would make for a massive gait. There was surely more than 10,000 at Crockett on Friday.
“You don’t really realize how many people it was until you’re up there at halftime and you take a look around, you know,” Chandley said, “just all of Washington County coming out to support this great rivalry game. Hats off to Boone. They played an excellent game. Coach Jenkins does a great job – him and his staff – getting his kids ready to play. We maintained ‘em there pretty good in the first half and then Charlie and Easton got us late there in the second half.”
But Larkins and company always answered. Robinson’s 28-yard TD catch.
“Cade checked us into some good plays there,” Chandley said. “He threw a touchdown on a check. Just an overall great performance by him. Probably the best half of football that he’s played all year there in the second half and he was able to lead us to victory.”