Rain came down in buckets late Friday afternoon not long before Campbell County High School’s football homecoming game against district rival Knoxville Central.
Though the sudden storm forced postponement of kickoff by half an hour, the rain appeared to water more than the grass at L. Hope Dossett Stadium.
A seed of hope — planted during long hours of winter weight training, spring practice and summer strength and conditioning workouts — began to sprout late in the first half when Cougars’ senior cornerback Zach Ward intercepted a pass at his goal line when the Bobcats were threatening to take the lead away from Campbell County.
Ward’s own eye black scripture verse — “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Heb. 11:1 — was the mantra of the day for the Cougars, who got a field goal and safety during the second half to take a hard-fought 12-7 victory.
It was the first time in school history that Campbell County (2-3 district, 3-4 overall) had beaten Central (2-4 district, 2-6 overall). The closest the Cougars had come to triumph in 12 previous attempts against Central was a 10-7 loss at the Bobcats’ homecoming game way back in 1988, when Central was ranked seventh in the state and boasted two of the best running backs in Tennessee in Leon Kirkland and Kippy Bayless.
Such historical perspective was lost on Campbell County coach Dewayne Wells, who never faced Central during his playing days at CCHS and was coaching college ball the last time the teams met in 1994.
“I wasn’t even aware of it,” Wells said on Sunday afternoon while viewing game film of the Cougars’ next opponent: Powell High School.
“Nobody expected us to win the game. The big thing was that we were able to play field position. Tuffy (Shoupe) made some good decisions. He’s not the fastest player we have, but he reads the option well.”
Because injuries necessitated a reshuffling of the offensive backfield earlier this season, Shoupe — a 5-10, 175 lb. sophomore — hadn’t played quarterback since a 39-7 loss at Karns on Sept. 11. Though he gained only 20 yards on 11 carries and completed two passes for 10 yards, Shoupe was instrumental in guiding the Cougars downfield on their two scoring drives.
Defensive lineman Tyler Oakes stripped the ball from a Central ball carrier, and Campbell County recovered the fumble at its 47 to begin a scoring drive not long after the opening kickoff.
Trevor Nolan, who moved from quarterback to running back, zipped through the Bobcats’ defense for a 22-yard gain on the Cougars’ second play from scrimmage.
Two plays later, fullback Bradley Hicks (20 carries, 82 yds.) churned out 15 yards between the tackles to set up his own score, a 1-yard touchdown plunge a little over three minutes into the game.
Junior place-kicker Wesley Cook booted the extra point for a 7-0 Campbell County lead with 8:52 left.
The Bobcats answered that touchdown with one of their own. Running back Carlos Campbell scored from the 5-yard line with 4:19 remaining in the first quarter. Samantha Miller’s extra point kick tied it at 7-7.
Central had the ball at the Cougars’ 2-yard line late in the first half, but Campbell County made a valiant goal line stand to keep the Bobcats out of the end zone. Ward picked off Central quarterback Carl Mills to end the threat.
“That goal line stand was huge,” said Wells.
Campbell County’s defense held again late in the third quarter when Carlos Campbell broke a 20-yard run that allowed Central to set up shop at the Cougars’ 18-yard line. Ward made a touchdown-saving tackle on the play.
Moments later, Campbell County came up with a turnover when defensive lineman Keenan Evans stripped the ball from a Central running back.
Early in the fourth quarter, linebacker Phoenix Asher smashed into a Bobcats’ back and created another turnover. Nolan scooped up the loose ball and raced downfield before being tackled at Central’s 7-yard line.
The Bobcats refused to give up another touchdown, but Cook made good on a 22-yard field goal attempt for a 10-7 Campbell County lead with 8:49 left.
The Cougars got their last two points on a safety with 1:30 to go when senior linebacker Tyler Amburgey tackled Mills in the end zone, forcing a desperation throw and drawing an intentional grounding penalty.
Campbell County finished with only 137 yards total offense, but won the game with patience and a great defensive effort.
“A week off (open date) helped us,” said Cougars’ defensive coordinator Chris Shouse.
“We got back to the basics…tackling. (Central) wanted to run the ball. That’s their forte`. They line up and try to punch you in the mouth. I don’t think the (wet) field conditions favored either team.”
The victory has revived Campbell County’s playoff hopes. If the Cougars can win two of their remaining three games against Powell, Knox Halls and Oak Ridge, they’ll have a shot at a postseason berth.
“We grew up a lot (against Central),” said Wells.
“I saw things from our players I hadn’t seen all year. It was a fun game because our players responded.
“I feel like a lot of our younger kids are catching up to the speed of the game. As coaches, we’re trying to put people in positions to give us a chance to be successful.
“We talked about the last four games as being rounds like a boxing match. We’ve won the first round, and now we’re trying to win the second round. Central, Halls and Powell all have two games left, and they all play each other.
“Mathematically, there are four teams that have a shot at third (place).
“These next two games have playoff ramifications. It’s going to go down to the last week.”