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Daniel Boone’s playoff run halted in Knoxville

For the 14 Blazer seniors, Friday night in Knoxville spelled the end to a record-setting career on the Boone gridiron. The seniors finished with 19 wins in two seasons, leaving behind a legacy as the winningest in school history in back-to-back seasons. Boone Head Coach Jeremy Jenkins acknowledged their superior leadership as well as their contribution to Daniel Boone.
“These are 14 kids we are going to really miss, the school’s going to miss and the community is going to miss,” Jenkins said. “They’re not just winners on the football field, but in many aspects of life. We have been very fortunate to have them.”
That same leadership that helped Boone reach the second round of the TSSAA 5A playoffs was evident following a misleading 33-14 loss to Knoxville West (10-2).
Shortly after the conclusion of the game, senior quarterback Kevin Connell was still exhibiting leadership. As the team gathered around midfield, with heads bowed in defeat, Connell shouted for his team to hold their heads up, that they had nothing to be ashamed of.
Connell was right. For four quarters of play, the Blazers didn’t let up, matching a favored and extremely talented West team with tremendous effort and intensity; a brand of ball Boone followers have grown accustomed to seeing.
After turning the ball over three times in the first half, the Blazers defense kept the team alive, holding the Rebels to just 13 points. Facing a 13-point deficit to start the third quarter, Jenkins began to gamble, searching for a spark to steal the momentum. On Boone’s first possession of the second half, Jenkins dialed up a fake punt on the Blazer side of midfield. The direct snap run came up just shy of a first down, giving West great field position in Boone territory. After advancing the ball inside the five, a Rebel personal foul renewed hope for the Blazers. Two plays later, the Blazers found their spark. Boone’s John Barker broke through the Rebel front, intercepted an option and rolled 78 yards to pay dirt. After the Brandon Burkey extra point, the Blazers only trailed by six, 13-7. Immediately following the kickoff, Barker came up big again, this time recovering a fumble.
With excellent field position and full control of the momentum, Boone appeared poised to take the lead. Without running back Tyler Shepherd who was forced to sit out one game for his part in a fight a week ago against Sullivan South, sophomore Cliff Sanders shouldered most of the load at the position. Sanders ran hard, but the Rebel defensive front overwhelmed the Blazers at the line of scrimmage.
“This was the best defensive front we have seen, especially at the end positions. They did a good job of making us one dimensional; we just couldn’t do a whole lot against them running the ball,” Jenkins said.
After failing to get a first down on two runs, the Blazers were forced to throw on third down, resulting in another West interception. The Rebels moved quickly downfield against a winded Boone defense. With less than three minutes left in the third quarter, Ryan Francis used a quarterback sneak to scamper past Boone defenders for an 11-yard touchdown. West failed on the two-point conversion, but maintained a 19-7 lead.
The Blazers wouldn’t go away. On the next series, Boone put together a nine-play, 80-yard drive, capped off by a 10-yard touchdown pass from Connell to Austin Seal. A rejuvenated Blazer defense held the Rebels to a three and out. Following a 55-yard punt, Boone trailed 19-14, with less than 10 minutes to play in the contest. Jenkins liked his team’s chances.
“We had the ball with eight minutes left, down five points, not a bad situation; we are going to take that anytime,” Jenkins said.
On first down at their own 32, Connell took the snap and threw a quick screen pass to his signal-calling counterpart, Austin Reppart. The other senior quarterback caught a quick glimpse of an open Boone receiver downfield and flung it deep, the Blazers’ game-long kryptonite. Ryan Francis made up ground quickly and intercepted the pass, the Rebel sophomore’s third and most significant pick of the game.
The Boone defense held West to two fourth downs, but the Rebels converted both, eventually finding the end zone. With two minutes left to play, the Blazers fumbled on first down, their sixth turnover of the contest, this one though, sealing the game for the Rebels.
The Blazers threw the ball more against West then they had against any other opponent this season. Connell and Reppart in a combined effort completed 18 of 28 passes for 207 yards. Hayden Chandley hauled in seven receptions for 81 yards, leading the team in receiving. Boone carried 23 times for 52 yards, most of those coming off a long 23-yard run from Sanders in the third quarter.
Jenkins didn’t need any time to determine why his team lost. “It just came down to us having too many turnovers,” he said. “They’re good enough that we don’t need to give them the ball that many times. We still had a chance at the end of the game; they just made more plays than we did. My hat is off to them, they’re a great team.”
Boone finishes the season at 9-3. The Rebels will host Anderson County next Friday, where the winner will advance to the semifinals.