BRISTOL, Tenn. – The Gibbs Eagles believed, and they soared because of it.
Ethan Humphries rambled for 156 yards and three touchdowns, and the Gibbs defense limited the Vikings to three points over the final three quarters, leading the Eagles to a 20-13 TSSAA 5A opening round playoff win over Tennessee High on a bitterly cold Friday night at the Stone Castle.
“We came off a big win last week and that just got our momentum going and that helped us a lot,” said Gibbs senior defensive end Justin Summers, whose Eagles came in having defeated defending 5A state champion Knox Central in their last game.
Tennessee High, which entered with a nine-game win streak, including the Mountain Lakes Conference championship, saw its season end with a 9-2 record.
“I will just remember playing in the Castle with my brothers, winning a conference championship,” Tennessee High quarterback Cole McBrayer said. “It was a good run, sad to see it come to an end.”
Knox Gibbs (8-3) won its fifth straight game and seventh in their last eight decisions. The Eagles will face Knox Central next Friday for the second time in the last three weeks.
“Our kids have done a great job the second half of the season believing in what we are doing,” Gibbs head coach Brad Turner said. “One of the things we talk to our kids about is it doesn’t matter who we play, it’s just that we have got to do what Gibbs does. If we take care of the football and play hard we have got a chance.”
They did just that against the Vikings, who led 10-0 after one quarter, but had to settle for field goals twice despite having a first down inside the Gibbs’ 10-yard line on two occasions.
“With a team that is going to grind it out like that and value every possession, we have got to get touchdowns,” said Mays, whose Vikings were victimized by several false start penalties at inopportune times. “They just played better than us. They were able to keep the ball and limit our possessions and we just didn’t get touchdowns when we needed to.”
The combination of quarterback Troy Davis – who ran for 95 yards on 20 carries – and the 5-foot-10, 215-pound Humphries – who got his 156 yards on 22 attempts – wore on the Vikings, with 160 of their combined 251 yards coming after the break.
“I have got to give it all to my offensive line,” Humphries said. “They were out there busting their butts, just doing everything they could. I just have to give everything to them. I can’t do anything without them.”
Tennessee High took a 10-0 lead on a 22-yard field goal by Jacob Craft and an 11-yard run from Isaiah Smith, but that was about it for the Vikings, who got a 20-yard Craft field goal in the fourth.
“Everybody just had to play their responsibility,” said Summers, whose Eagles were able to contain athletic playmakers Jaden Keller and Smith for the most part. “Everyone had their man and took care of their jobs.”
Gibbs, who trailed 10-7 after a Humphries 5-yard scoring run at halftime, took the lead for good on an impressive eight-play 99-yard third quarter drive, keyed by runs of 22 and 11 yards by Humphries and 12 and 39 yards from Davis.
Humphries finished it off from the 1 and John Pittman’s extra point made it 14-10 for the Eagles.
“The belly play kind of hurt us. I felt like we did a good job on the veer, but they were able to get a little wedge in there and stick 35 [Humphries] in the hole and he was a load,” Mays said.
“[Davis] broke a couple of runs in key situations, but 35 he was a load, he played his butt off.”
Tennessee High was able to get the ball inside the Gibbs 10 one more time, but had to settle for a field goal and still trailed 14-13 with 10:15 to play.
“It just came down to who wanted it more at the end and they gutted it out,” McBrayer said. “We kind of shot ourselves in the foot with a couple of penalties and it just didn’t end up the way we wanted it too.”
Gibbs answered with a 10-play, 74-yard drive, twice converting on 3rd and long before Humphries broke loose for a 31-yard touchdown against the weary Tennessee High defense.
“That triple-option is always hard to stop,” McBrayer said. “They have really good runners and they took advantage of what they had.”
Tennessee High got the ball back one last time, but the Eagles finished it off with an interception by Tyson Merritt with 1:29 left to play.
“They had won nine straight. They were a good football team, they had some fantastic players, good coaching. You could tell they were well prepared for tonight,” Turner said. “It just came down to two running football teams going at it. It is fun football.”
It wasn’t much fun for Tennessee High, and especially the seniors, who were a vital part of winning nine games and a conference title when not a lot was expected prior to the season.
“It was just their leadership and their work ethic, coming to work every day and practicing hard and preparing,” Mays said. “Other than tonight, I thought we played our best game every week and that is a testament to our senior leadership and the guys in the locker room…
“We had a great group of seniors, good leadership, it is hard to see those guys go. They played their butts off, but Gibbs just played better than us tonight.”
Knox Gibbs 0 7 7 6 - 20
Tennessee High 10 0 0 3 - 13
TH-Craft 22 field goal
TH-Smith 10 run (Craft kick)
KG-Humphries (Pittman kick)
KG-Humphries 1 run (Pittman kick)
TH-Craft 20 field goal
KG-Humphries 31 run (kick blocked)
First downs: KG 15; TH 12. Rush-yards: KG 54-256; TH 25-142. Pass yards: KG 0; TH 108. Comp-Att-Int: KG 0-2-0; TH 10-18-1. Fumbles-lost: KG 3-2; TH 1-1. Penalty-yards: KG 7-50; TH 7-64. Punts-Avg: KG 2-32.5; H 2-44.5.