GRAY, Tenn. – Daniel Boone standout running back Charlie Cole’s absence was eclipsed by Jaden Keller’s presence Friday during Tennessee High’s blowout victory at Nathan Hale Stadium.
Keller, an athletic 6-foot-3 junior, rushed for two touchdowns and returned the second half’s opening kickoff 97 yards to set up quarterback Cole McBrayer’s one-yard TD, and the Vikings rolled to a 35-0 victory in both teams’ Region 1-5A opener.
Keller scored the game’s first TD on a 14-yard sweep with 1:51 left in the first quarter. He added a 3-yard TD run with 1:03 left in the half to give the Vikings a 14-point cushion, and then essentially delivered a knockout punch with the long kickoff return to start the second half.
“Coming out of halftime coach [said] we’ve gotta score on that opening drive, get momentum,” Keller said. “I saw the hole open up. They blocked a great hole, and I just took off from there.”
Tennessee High coach Mike Mays all but guaranteed a huge year from Keller this summer.
“He’s a special kid,” Mays said. “He competes. He’s a great kid in the classroom, a great teammate. And he’s explosive with the ball in his hands.”
The Vikings (1-1) were coming off a bye week after a season-opening loss against Dobyns-Bennett.
“We had two weeks to prepare,” Mays said. “We were dialed in. They were missing a couple of their guys, but we’ve got some special players, too.”
They held Boone to 106 yards of offense, including 43 rushing yards. The ‘Blazers were also without their top linebacker and No. 2 running back in junior Devon White, who is now week to week with a thumb injury. Cole, who has committed to Army, could miss another month with a fractured forearm.
“It’s been two weeks since we’d played,” Mays said. “We had some tough practices in the heat. We changed some things on offense and got better on defense. We didn’t make mistakes tonight. I think the coaches did a great job making some improvements the last two weeks. We had a great game plan on both sides.
“We were ready to play, and when you lose a star like Charlie it is gonna deflate your team. It can go two ways – they can be fired up and play for him or it can deflate. I think it just deflated ‘em.”
McBrayer was 8-of-14 passing for 111 yards, including a 43-yard TD pass to Isaiah Smith that gave the Vikings a 28-0 lead with 8:39 left in the third quarter. McBrayer also rushed eight times for 31 yards and the one score.
“I love him back there,” Keller said. “He controls the whole offense. He knows what he’s doing. He has us good right now.”
The Vikings’ Nolan Wishon, an East Tennessee State commitment, looked comfortable in his transition from tight end to offensive tackle.
“He’s a great team player,” Keller said. “He made the move to tackle this year and he didn’t complain at all. He made a team-player move and he’s dominating at it right now.”
Boone finished with 43 yards rushing on 26 attempts. But Jeremy Jenkins was hesitant to take away from Tennessee High’s effort by lamenting the absence of Cole and White.
“That’s just an excuse,” Jenkins said. “We’ve played without [Cole] before. So that’s just an excuse. We got whipped in the line of scrimmage. We didn’t tackle. And that’s the game – period. … We had ‘em third-and-eight or more six times and they get five out of six and sustain drives.
“We said going in we had to be physical in the line of scrimmage against a good, active front like Tennessee High. Their movement hurt us all night. We didn’t sustain many blocks. We didn’t sustain many drives.”
Kelvin Coleman concluded the scoring with a 4-yard TD run with 2:48 left in the third quarter. Levon Montgomery had five carries for 31 yards for Tennessee High, which will visit Virginia High on Friday. Boone (1-2) will visit Elizabethton on Friday.
Tennessee High 7 7 21 0 — 35
Daniel Boone 0 0 0 0 — 0
TH—Keller 14 run (Craft kick)
TH—Keller 3 run (Craft kick)
TH—McBrayer 1 run (Craft kick)
TH—Smith 43 pass from McBrayer (Craft kick)
TH—Coleman 4 run (Craft kick)
First downs: THS 15, DB 5; Rushes-Yards THS 31-109, DB 26-43; Comp-Att-Int: THS 8-15-0, DB 8-13-0; Passing yards: THS 110, DB 63; Fumbles-lost: THS 1-0, DB 0-0; Penalties: THS 4-35, DB 2-20; Punts: THS 3-25.7,DB 6-20.7