GREENEVILLE — This time, Greeneville seized the moment against Giles County — thanks in a big way to Jamel Hall.
The relentless Greeneville star led his team on both sides of the football and the Greene Devils earned their third straight berth in the Class 4A state championship game with a 42-21 win over Giles County on Friday night at Burley Stadium.
The defending champion Greene Devils (13-1) avenged a loss to the Bobcats (10-4) in the 2009 title game and advanced to play Nashville Maplewood on Dec. 3 at 4:30 p.m. (EST) in Cookeville. Maplewood (11-3) whipped Covington, 28-7. Greeneville defeated Maplewood 17-7 in last year’s semifinal round.
After starting the game against Giles with a 14-0 bang, Greeneville appeared headed for yet another postseason blowout win. However, Bobcats’ quarterback Al Cobb had other ideas.
Cobb would eventually pass for 215 yards and rush for 92 more, but he still couldn’t make up for Hall’s efforts. Hall, a Class AA Mr. Football finalist, rushed for 96 yards on 11 carries, had a 20-yard reception for a key first-down on the game-clinching drive, scored the eventual clinching touchdown, recorded three quarterback sacks and five tackles for loss, recovered a fumble, and generally made life miserable for an otherwise determined Giles County team.
“It was an unbelievable effort by him on both sides of the ball,” said Greeneville head coach Caine Ballard. “He showed why he’s a Mr. Football finalist, and why he might win the Mr. Football award.”
After Tanner Stewart plunged in from 1-yard out to make it 7-0, Hall made his first big impact. From his defensive end position, he caught a spinning Cobb on a first-down play in the second quarter and knocked the ball loose. Hall recovered at Giles’ 20-yard line and returned it to the five to set up a second one-yard run by Stewart.
“I came from the back side and knocked it out,” said Hall. “I picked it up and tried to score, but he caught me. We knew (Cobb) was elusive, so we knew we had to get to him, break down, and make the tackle.”
It was 14-0, but Giles was still in the game. A gutsy fourth-down conversion kept the next drive alive, and Cobb hit Kenton Baker for a 26-yard touchdown to make it 14-7.
Greeneville fumbled on its next possession, and Giles took advantage with a trick play on fourth down. Baker took a handoff for what looked like an end around. However, he pulled up and threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Dontarius Gilbert with just 13.1 seconds left in the half.
“I think at that point we saw it was going to be a heavyweight fight, like we wanted,” said Hall. “We wanted to play four quarters, and that’s what we got.
“Coach Ballard got into us a little at halftime. He said we needed to come out and drive it down their throat and keep going.”
The Greene Devils listened to their coach. They pounded Giles with a brutal six-play, 56-yard drive, taking a 21-14 lead on Taylor Shuffler’s five-yard run.
But Giles answered back, driving 80 yards and getting the tying score on Cobb’s 18-yard strike to Baker.
Greeneville answered quickly as Shuffler scored the second of his three touchdowns with a blistering 46-yard run. Shuffler, who finished with 131 yards on nine carries, made a blazing-quick cut to find open space.
“He’s quick and explosive,” said Ballard. “He has great speed and he puts his foot in the ground as good as anybody.”
Greeneville’s defense made a big play on the next series as Derrik Thornton picked off a third-down pass deep in Greene Devils’ territory. Then the offense embarked on a 12-play, 81-yard drive that chewed up a big chunk of the fourth quarter. Hall’s 24-yard scoring run made it 35-21 and sealed the deal.
Stewart finished with 88 yards on 17 carries for the Greene Devils.
Cobb was 19 of 26 passing for the Bobcats. Ben Bates was his favorite target, catching nine passes for 99 yards. Baker had seven catches for 89 yards.
One of the key differences in the game was kickoffs. Greeneville’s Ben Ogle put six of seven in the end zone while all of Giles’ kickoffs were high and short and gave Greeneville good starting field position.
Ogle was also 6 of 6 on extra-point attempts.
Greeneville moved its season total to 633 points. It’s the second straight year the Greene Devils have posted a top-10 all-time total.