Steam rising from his sweat covered brow, white road uniform muddy and crumpled, Zach Allen looked very much like a punch-drunk prizefighter struggling to stay on his feet during a standing eight-count.
The Campbell County High School senior lineman was the last man to leave the field of battle Friday night following the Cougars’ first-round Class 5A playoff game at Ooltewah.
He walked alone, slowly, as if delaying his exit from the stadium would turn back time and extend his high school football career a few more minutes.
“I’m just sad it’s over,” said Allen, whose team was eliminated 38-12 by the Region 3-5A champion Owls.
“(Football) has been a big part of my life for four years.”
And what an incredible four years it has been.
Allen’s class is responsible for the second most wins (13) ever for a Campbell County football team, trailing last year’s seniors by only two victories.
Over the past two seasons, the Cougars compiled a 10-12 overall record, made two consecutive playoff appearances for the first time, and posted three of the biggest wins in school history.
But Friday’s 26-point loss at Ooltewah was the end of the line for Campbell County, which won four of its first six games this season before hitting a three-game slump that threatened to keep the team out of postseason play. Two weeks ago, the Cougars had to beat Karns in the final game of the regular season just to get into the playoffs.
“If we had lost (the Karns) game, our season would’ve been over,” said Allen.
“Knowing it could be your last game just gives you that extra motivation.”
Playing the state’s third-ranked Class 5A team on its home turf was motivation enough for the Cougars, who hoped to be the first Campbell County team to make it past the opening round. The Cougars lost their two previous playoff games, including a 28-0 defeat at William Blount last November.
Ooltewah came in with the top running back in Chattanooga --senior Matthew Polk--who rushed for 1,435 yards and 24 touchdowns in the Owls’ nine regular season games.
Although he was held to one score by a Campbell County defense geared to stop him, Polk did get the first four carries on Ooltewah’s first scoring drive and finished with 144 yards on 21 totes for the game.
Fullback Brandon Bruell put the Owls on the scoreboard first when he blasted through the middle of the Cougars’ defense for a 32-yard touchdown run with 6:23 left in the opening quarter. Place-kicker John Long kicked the point-after for a 7-0 lead.
The Cougars didn’t do themselves any favors on their second possession. Defensive end Kevin Adams gathered in a tipped screen pass at Campbell County’s 20-yard line and returned it for a touchdown with 5:23 remaining. Long’s PAT made it 14-0.
Owls’ quarterback Brady Reed was quick to take advantage of the special attention given to his running backs. He hooked up with receiver Samuel Seamster for a 57-yard touchdown pass play at the 7:39 mark of the second quarter, then tossed a 27-yard scoring strike to tight end Jaques Smith with 1:04 to go.
Reed threw his second TD pass when faced with a third-and-six situation. Ooltewah led 28-0 at halftime.
Polk got his lone touchdown on a 1-yard run with 7:32 left in the third quarter. Long’s PAT made it 35-0.
Campbell County scored late in the third quarter after driving 80 yards in only six plays. Senior quarterback Phillip Wells picked up much of the yardage on a long option run that began at his own 22-yard line. A defender knocked the ball loose, but the Cougars recovered the fumble at the Ooltewah 46.
Wells then connected with his twin brother Stephen on a couple of pass plays: a 24-yarder to get inside the red zone and an 8-yarder in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Blake Potter missed the PAT kick, which left Campbell County trailing 35-6.
Early in the fourth quarter, Long closed out Ooltewah’s scoring by kicking a 38-yard field goal.
Potter intercepted a pass with 4:35 to go. Then, with 1:12 left, Troy Arnold was the middle man on a perfectly executed, 57-yard hook-and-lateral play that resulted in a touchdown for Justin Young.
Potter’s PAT attempt, the last of his high school career, was blocked.
The Cougars finished with their second consecutive 5-6 season. Phillip Wells paced Campbell County’s option attack with 88 yards rushing on 11 carries. He also completed 6 of 10 passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns. He was intercepted once.
Arnold and John Kennedy, both senior linebackers, led the Cougar defense with eight tackles each followed by junior safety Trevor Nolan with seven.
Meanwhile, the Owls improved their record to 9-1 overall and advanced to the second round to face a familiar foe, Soddy-Daisy. All four of the teams from Campbell County’s conference, including number one ranked Dobyns-Bennett, were swept by Region 2-5A teams during the first round of the playoffs.
“I think we had an overall good season,“ said Troy Arnold, senior linebacker for the Cougars.
“Our goal was to get past the first round of the playoffs, but Ooltewah was pretty impressive. We lost some region games early (in the season) that affected how we were seeded going into the playoffs.”