Stymied most of the night by a fast, aggressive Georgia defense, Team Tennessee was able to parlay a fourth-quarter fumble recovery into the only touchdown of the night to claim victory in the 9th Annual Stump on Sports Tennessee-Georgia All-Star Football Classic, 7-3, at Ringgold High School.
The win gave the Volunteer State a 6-3 lead in the all-time series, which pits recent high school graduates from more than a dozen Southeast Tennessee counties against their counterparts in Northwest Georgia.
The Georgia stars held Tennessee to less than 100 yards in the air and picked off two passes while shutting down the ground game to the tune of just six net yards on 17 carries. They gave up just six first downs, recovered one fumble, and recorded a pair of sacks.
But the offense couldn’t hold up its end of the bargain again a Tennessee defensive unit that played well in its own right.
A bend-but-don’t-break defense gave up just 144 hard-earned yards on 34 carries by 11 different runners, and allowed just 35 yards in the air, 30 of which came on Georgia’s final drive of the game. They also recovered a pair of fumbles, converting the second one into the game-winning points.
Julian Stubbs (Ridgeland) made a great diving catch to pick off Tennessee quarterback Trent Lusk (McCallie) on the first play of the game, but Georgia would come away empty after Dustin Lewis (Heritage) missed on a 45-yard field goal attempt.
The remainder of the first three quarters would be battle of missed chances and missile punts.
Both teams turned the ball over on downs two more times in their opponent’s territory. Austin Sollicito (Sonoraville) came up big for the Georgia defense with a fumble recovery and an interception, while defensive end Henry McClendon (Cleveland) came up with a loose ball for Tennessee to thwart a Georgia drive. Sollicito also had several tackles in the game.
Gordon Central’s Jayden Compton got several touches on offense for Georgia and was the team’s leading rusher with 40 yards, and his former teammate CJ Bell made several tackles from his linebacker spot. Two former Gordon Central players, Colt Ankney and Matt Chastain also made an impact in the game, seeing snaps on the Georgia offensive line.
Lewis also punted five times in the game for an average of 40.6 yards (with a long of 52) while his counterpart, Chris Moore (East Hamilton), averaged 42 yards on five punts, including bombs of 50 and 53 yards.
Scoreless through three quarters, Georgia finally broke through on a Lewis’ 34-yard field goal just 12 seconds into the final period of play.
A big 54-yard kickoff return by Patrick Lindsey (McMinn County) gave Tennessee excellent field position just across midfield, but the ensuing drive would result in a turnover on downs at the Georgia 39.
However, Jake Ables (Soddy-Daisy) would pounce a fumble two plays later, setting up shop for Tennessee at the Georgia 38-yard line with 8:47 remaining.
A first down sack by Tay-Tay Harrison (Heritage) pushed Tennessee back five more yards, but Lusk connected with Justin Houston (Bradley Central) on a big 17-yard catch on third down before zipping a pass to a diving Kameno Watson (Red Bank) for what would become the game-winning 22-yard scoring strike with 5:25 left.
Georgia would get one final chance starting at its own 39 with 2:39 to play, and two pass completions by Jake Sampson (Heritage) moved the ball to midfield. But back-to-back penalties cost the offense 25 yards and a sack by Keionta Davis (Red Bank) effectively ended the game with just 24 ticks remaining.
“We moved up and down the field and our defense played great, except for those two receptions,” said Ringgold head coach Robert Akins, who guided Team Georgia. “That’s just the way it goes sometimes. We had some opportunities in the first half, and really in the second half too, but we just couldn’t get it done. It’s just a tribute to (Tennessee’s) defense and they did a great job of coaching. They were up to the task tonight.”
Watson finished with four catches for 39 yards and the game-winning score to take home game Most Valuable Player honors. Lusk was 7-of-13 for 64 yards to garner Tennessee Player of the Game status.
Defensive end Justin Adekoya (Heritage) earned the Georgia Player of the Game award with five total tackles, including two for loss and a pair of sacks, which tied the All-Star Classic record.
“It was great to play in this game and meet a lot of guys from the different schools in the area,” said quarterback Ryan Chastain (Gordon Lee). It was a pretty cool experience all the way around. This (Tennessee-Georgia) rivalry hasn’t been around as long as say Gordon Lee against Trion, but there was some high intensity out there tonight and some really great athletes on both sides. It was a battle.”
Despite the tough loss, Akins said it was great to see football being played at Ringgold High School once more, just over a year removed from the devastating tornado of April 2011.
“It’s exciting to see people in the stands and to see the lights on the field,” he explained.
“It’s just good to be back. We’re excited about the upcoming season and hopefully our team will do some great things.”
In other action from the Georgia-Tennessee All-Star Classic Series over the weekend:
Georgia 1 (Saturday)
CHATTANOOGA — A quick look at the stat sheet would suggest that Team Georgia got the better of their Volunteer State opponents during Saturday’s Stump on Sports Tennessee-Georgia All-Star Soccer Classic at Finley Stadium.
Georgia enjoyed a slight edge in time of possession, but dominated in the shots on goal category, outgunning Tennessee, 14-3, in the annual match between recent high school graduates from Southeast Tennessee against their counterparts in Northwest Georgia.
But for Team Tennessee, it was quality over quantity.
Tennessee Player of the Game Arturo Rocha (McCallie) found the back of the net early in the match and assisted on a goal in the second half as Team Tennessee held off Team Georgia, 2-1, to take a 6-1-1 lead in the all-time series. It marked the fifth match of the series that has been decided by a single goal.
“We had a game plan, and it really seemed to be working for us in the second half,” said Southeast Whitfield head coach Jamison Griffin, who coached the Georgia stars. “We just couldn’t find the back of the net. It was tough because we just had three days of practice, and it’s hard to bring in kids that talented and try to get them to gel that quickly, but I was impressed by how many opportunities we made for ourselves. Still, you have to tip you hat to their keepers because they did a really good job in the box.”
Recent Calhoun graduate Alex Hernandez started in the game and played three different positions. He began the game at left defender before moving up to midfield and eventually striker. He had six passes that led to shots on goal for the Georgia squad.
Tennessee struck in the eighth minute of the match, as Angel Cruz (McCallie) beat a defender and got loose in the Georgia box. He slid a ball past two more defenders onto the foot of his former Blue Tornado teammate, who beat keeper Hunter Cawood (Ringgold) for the opening goal.
The game would remain 1-0 into the second half and Tennessee would dodge a bullet when Matt Esquivel (Heritage) just missed wide on a header in the 56th minute. The Volunteer State got some insurance eight minutes later when Rocha fed Felipe Munoz (Ooltewah) to put their squad up 2-0.
Esquivel would connect on a penalty kick after being taken down in the box in the 75th minute, and Georgia would pepper future Tennessee Temple University keeper Jonathan Rodriguez (East Ridge) with a bevy of shots in the closing minutes. But Rodriguez was able to turn Georgia away to seal the victory.