KNOXVILLE — Now you see the ball. Now you don’t.
Knoxville West quarterback Ryan Francis ran the option to near perfection to lead the Rebels to a 35-13 win over visiting Daniel Boone in the first round of Friday’s Class 5A football playoffs.
As Francis tallied 206 rushing yards on 17 carries and added another 89 passing yards, it allowed West (9-2) to end the Trailblazers’ season for a second straight year.
He explained the success on many of his quarterback keepers.
“The dive read crashed,” he said. “When it did, I pulled the ball and just took off down the hole. I would just follow my blockers and hit it as hard as I could.”
Even when the ’Blazers got their hands on him, the 6-foot-1, 182-pound junior still proved to be elusive.
“Ryan is just a tougher than nails kid, and when you least expect it, he breaks something open,” West head coach Scott Cummings said. “His rushing yards were huge tonight.”
“I don’t know how many times we hit him at the line of scrimmage, but he still came up with positive yards,” Boone head coach Jeremy Jenkins added. “That’s a quality football team and they’re 9-2 for a reason.”
Daniel Boone, which ended the year 5-6, was still in the game late in the third quarter. Down by eight points, the ’Blazers drove all the way to the West-24 before a turnover.
“We played hard — we just didn’t make enough plays at the end,” Jenkins said. “We had the ball down by eight, driving, but we didn’t make the plays. I was really impressed with their football team, but just as impressed with ours, the way we kept battling back.”
The Rebels got on the scoreboard first with a 13-play, 50-yard drive capped off by Christian Boseman’s three-yard run. University of Tennessee commitment George Bullock tacked on the extra point for a 7-0 West lead.
Boone answered with a 12-play, 80-yard drive, highlighted by a pair of passes from Jacob Littleton. The first was a 30-yard completion to Austin Seal, and the second was a 15-yard touchdown to Landon Jenkins at the left front of the end zone. Chris Dickerson added the extra point for a 7-7 tie.
Not to be outdone, West drove back down the field, getting a go-ahead score with 1:37 left in the half. Robbie Flood hit a hole over the right side and jogged into the end zone for a 14-7 West lead.
Francis put the Rebels up by two scores in the third quarter, breaking free on the right side and going 52 yards.
However, Boone took advantage of West having no safety back two plays later with an 80-yard strike from Littleton to Seal. It closed the margin to 21-13 at the 6:17 mark of the third quarter.
The Rebels fired back two minutes later with a 39-yard pass from Francis to a wide-open Jaywaun Mitchell for a 28-13 lead.
With Boone threatening once again in the fourth quarter, Chris Smith grabbed his third interception of the game to set up the game’s final score. Francis broke free on a 44-yard scamper, and Boseman reached the end zone one play later on a two-yard run.
Overall, West controlled the game by gobbling up 275 rushing yards on 44 carries, and limiting the ’Blazers to 80 yards on 23 carries.
Littleton ended with 12-of-26 passing for 188 yards to lead Boone’s offense, while Cliff Sanders was the leading ballcarrier with 48 yards on 13 carries.
Despite the loss, Boone’s senior class tied a school record with 29 overall victories.
“Ever since my freshman year, I’ve loved it,” senior running back Austin McLemore said. “The sophomore year, we really got on a roll and we’ve made three straight playoffs. We didn’t get off to a great start, but we kept battling and it worked out.”
It was a sentiment shared by big lineman Ryan Iezzi, who said in one sense this season’s journey was even more satisfying than the previous two years.
“A lot of hard work goes into the preparation for a game,” Iezzi said. “We tried really hard, but we came up short tonight. In a way, the way we had to come together and battle this season, it made everything more satisfying.”
Boone’s head coach promised the ’Blazers will keep battling until they finally get past the Knoxville hurdle.
“We’re got to just keep going and keep knocking at this door in Knoxville,” Jenkins said. “We’re going to keep knocking until we knock that door down.”