Two of General Robert Neyland’s maxims were “Play for and make the breaks, and when one comes your way – Score! If at first the game or the breaks go against you, don’t let up…put on more steam.”
The Campbell County Cougars could not have put those words into better use than they did Thursday night in the stadium named after Neyland himself.
Facing off with the Fighting Irish of Catholic High School, the Cougars found out just what it meant to ‘put on more steam.’
“Obviously, you want to start out better,” defensive coordinator Matt Price said. “I don’t think that we’re in a position to spot a team seven points, but the way that our guys reacted [was encouraging]. That’s one of the things that we talked about: fighting through adversity.”
Only three plays into the game, the Fighting Irish hit pay dirt. Following that play, Campbell County allowed only three first downs, including two three-and-outs in the 15-minute quarter.
Although the Cougars fell 7-0, they held Catholic scoreless through 13 plays to finish out the game. With the experience of playing in Neyland Stadium, Campbell County is quickly finding they can fight through those tough times.
“With the atmosphere here, it’s just something that our kids have never experienced,” head coach Justin Price said. “You learn so much through experience. Tonight, I think this could be the biggest crowd Campbell County football has ever played in front of. That means a lot, and it’s just another stepping stone in where we’re trying to get to.”
With nearly half the lower section of the University of Tennessee stadium filled, which the Cougar nation had a big following in, the Orange and Blue looked to prove themselves.
“It doesn’t get any bigger than this,” senior wide receiver Isaac Phillips said. “This is as big as it’s going to get. If we can play with a crowd in Neyland Stadium, we can play with anybody. I’m not worried about it. Like I said, this is as big as it gets. Seymour shouldn’t be a problem.”
Seymour, whom finished 2-8 last season, defeated Campbell County 42-6 in their first game of the year. However, the 2012 campaign sees a different Cougar squad entering the fall.
The Friday night game is slated to begin in Hope L. Dossett Stadium at 7:30 p.m.
“Catholic ran a very similar defense as Seymour does,” Justin Price said. “I think that was helpful for our offensive linemen to see the speed up front against somebody other than ourselves. It’s just a matter of us being on a big stage now. We’ve got to go back and correct those mistakes that we’ve made over the last two weeks.”
Catholic got things started with a three-play, 70-yard drive. Nolan Coulter led the way with two running plays for 51 yards. His final rush, a fullback trap, saw him go 39 yards for the game’s only score.
Campbell County finally got its game rolling off the feet of Ethan Simpson. A 40-yard dash following blocks by Slaton Allen, Patrick Wright, Keifer Parker, and massive block by Andrew Evans put the Cougars on the 11-yard line. Ethan Jeffers’ pass on the next play was tipped by Theo Sholly and intercepted by linebacker Logan Irwin to end the threat.
“A lot of it is because we know that we have a young quarterback, and we’re going to have to be really good around him,” Justin Price said.
“The good thing I saw with him tonight was that he made good reads. His reads were good, but his throws were high. His mental focus is there, but he’s just a little nervous.”
For most of the players, however, it was just a great opportunity for them to play on the same field as legends.
“That’s an awesome opportunity to be a sophomore quarterback and play in Neyland Stadium,” Jeffers said. “This is where I grew up watching the Tennessee Vols play.”