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Archives 11-09-2005

Sports

LA upsets Carter, moves to second round


LA upsets Carter, moves to second round

Mac McLeod/OCN Sports
Senior Wilson Cates takes off on a quarterback keeper late in the LA Wildcats' first round playoff win over the Hornets of Carter at Strawberry Plains on Friday, Nov. 4.

By MAC McLEOD, OCN Sports
Standing on the sidelines early in Friday night's first round playoff action at Knoxville Carter, Livingston Academy tight-end Tyler Livingston watched his teammates struggle as the Hornets easily drove 61 yards in just 6 plays to take a 7-0 lead.

"We'll be okay once we settle down, Livingston pointed out. "We're just a little nervous right now."

Livingston was dead on the money. The Wildcats, blasted by the Hornets on the second series of the game, gathered it back up, fought back, then used the clock, a late score, and a fumble to post an impressive 27-24 victory and advance to the second round of the TSSAA high school championship playoff.

Defensive lineman Ryan Duke pointed out after the game, "We were a little shaky at the start. We had to settle in, and once we did, we bent some, but we never broke.

"That's the thing about this team. We lost some close games this year, but we never just folded and let it get away. They (Carter) were a good team, but tonight, we hung in there, played as a team, and now we get to move on. It's a great credit to this team."

At 9-1 coming into the contest, the Region 1-3A champion Hornets looked to be the better team, at least on paper. The Wildcats, playing in Region 2 for the first time this year, had looked good at times, but when the regular season was over, could only boast a 5-5 record after several close losses.

And after the Hornets took their first offensive opportunity and ripped off three straight first downs in route to the opening score with just 5 minutes gone in the game, it appeared as if the 16 Wildcats seniors and veteran coach Bobby Gore were playing their final game.

But that was early, and a lot of things would happen in the next 40 minutes.

After junior running back Eugene Brown bulled in for the first score of the night from 5 yards, outcapping the 61-yard Carter drive, the Wildcats did "settle down". After holding the home team on its second possession, the Wildcats forced a punt and Cates and Company went to work.

Runningbacks Jake Reeder and Jamey Vaughn combined with quarterback Cates to go 53 yards on 6 plays, with Reeder powering over from the 2 to pull within a point. Jonathan McGill missed the point after attempt, one of just four he had missed all season.

LA trailed 6-7.

And that's the way it would stand for the remainder of the half.

Late in the second quarter, Kevin Hendricks would attempt a 38-yard field goal after a long drive that started back on the Hornets' 20 yard line, but it would fail and the two teams went to intermission a point apart.

After having to walk 500 yards up hill to the dressing room at the intermission, the Wildcats returned for the third period just a little upset with the accommodations. There was a dressing room at the field, but apparently, the home team didn't see fit to let the Wildcats use them.

"Making us walk all the way back to the gym at half time just didn't sit well," Vaughn later explained. "By the time we got up here and got something to drink, it was time to go back to the field. But that's okay, we showed them who had the best team in the end."

When they did get back to the field and into action in the third period, the Wildcats only handled the ball 7 times - 5 plays and 2 returns - but it was the turning point in the contest. Cates intercepted a Hornet pass early in the period and put on a brilliant display of broken field running of 47 yards to return the ball to the home team's 18.

From there, Reeder ripped off 15 yards on the first play, and Vaughn went in for the score from the 3. Vaughn then teamed up with Cates for a 2-point conversion pass and the Wildcats were up by 7 at 14-7.

Four plays later, Cates again showed the crowd why he's one of the top high school players in the state as he pulled in a punt at his 45 and blistered the defense on a return to the 13. Two plays later, Vaughn took a pitchout to the left and raced in for the score. McGill kicked the point-after, and Livingston, in the stretch of just 7 minutes, was on top by a pair of touchdowns.

But there was still a fourth quarter to be played, and with just under 3 minutes left in the game, the Hornets had pulled back on top. Suddenly, what only minutes before looked like a win, started to look like a loss for the Wildcats.

"We just never quit," Cates later said. "We knew we could move the ball, and once we got it there late in the game, we knew, as a team, we had to score. We had to or we had played our final game. For our seniors, that was not acceptable."

In 6 plays, the Wildcats stormed back down the field, sparked mainly by a 54-yard pass and a run by Vaughn. On third and 9, Cates found his running back over the left side, hit him with a short pass, and Livingston Academy's all-time leading scorer set out for the goal line.

"I saw the defender closing on me," Vaughn later explained, "and I knew the clock was running down (just over a minute left). I wanted to stay in-bounds if he caught me so the clock would continue to run."

The defender caught Vaughn at the 10, but after no gain on the next play, Cates rolled to his right on third down, could not find a defender open, then hurled himself over the line for the night's winning score. With only 58 second remaining, Livingston Academy was on top 27-24.

But Carter had one more chance.

On first down at their 39, the Hornets went to the left side with Brown, who had already carried 37 times on the night, getting the call again.

Brown fumbled, and Reeder, Cates and Wade Ford dove for the loose ball, with Reeder coming up with it.

"There it was," Reeder recalled, "just bouncing around, and we all went for it. When they unpiled, I had it."

The Cats then ran out the clock and were running to the second round of the playoffs against Region 2 foe Austin-East.

"What a team effort," Livingston Head Coach Matt Eldridge said after the game. "I am so proud of this team. We could have folded early when they drove for that first score, but this group just regrouped, and now we're going to the second round.

"This was one game where you can't find an individual star, just an entire team of stars. A great, great team effort."

Livingston lost to Austin-East during the regular season 21-28, in a hard fought contest. The second round playoff game will be played in Knoxville on Friday night, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. Eastern Time.

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