Yes, Virginia, interceptions are quite costly.
Tennessee used two long interception returns for touchdowns to take a 30-22 victory over Virginia in the second annual Fellowship of Christian Athletes All-Star Game at Kermit Tipton Stadium.
Tennessee got the first big break near the end of the first quarter. With the Virginia team down at the Tennessee 5-yard line, an attempted halfback pass by Brett Johnson was picked off by Sullivan South’s J.C. Garvin and returned 98 yards for the game’s first score.
“We got pressure on them and almost got a sack and they threw it right to me,” Garvin said. “From there, I just took it all the way.”
It was clearly the difference in a game which the boys from Southwest Virginia outgained the stars from Northeast Tennessee 293-133 on the ground. Their efforts included Devon Johnson of Richlands rushing 23 times for 156 yards and three touchdowns.
Even winning coach Jeremy Jenkins was beaming about Johnson, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound back committed to Marshall, after the game.
“He’s a pretty tough cookie to knock down,” Jenkins said. “He’s a good player, a real good running back over there.”
Tennessee took control early in the second quarter when a 35-yard pass from Science Hill’s Justin Snyder to North Greene’s Chance Marr capped off a five-play, 62-yard drive.
It was the only offensive score of the half.
Tennessee later went up 16-0 when a punt attempt was snapped out of the end zone. The halftime score became 23-0 after Justin Long of Dobyns-Bennett intercepted another Virginia pass with a one-handed grab and returned it 55 years for a touchdown.
Long had a big day on the defensive side, adding a fumble recovery in the fourth quarter.
“J.C. had a little better interception return since his was a little longer,” Long said. “But mine was alright with the one-handed catch. It’s the third time I’ve done that now.”
The roles were reversed early in the third quarter after an interception of Tennessee quarterback McKenly Berry’s pass by Virginia’s Aaron Conley. Two plays later, Johnson went over right tackle and raced 35 yards for a touchdown.
Johnson pulled the Virginians within one possession early in the fourth quarter with a five-yard touchdown run and another score on the two-point conversion.
The Tennessee squad answered on its next possession with Snyder throwing a jump ball to Adrian Lavernge of Tennessee High for a 20-yard touchdown and a 30-15 Tennessee lead.
Virginia wasn’t done, however, as running backs Tyler Graham and Johnson spearheaded a drive capped off by a two-yard run by Johnson for the final margin.
Graham ended with 16 rushes for 92 yards, but it was Johnson who carried the bulk of the load with the aforementioned 23 carries.
“I didn’t think I even had the ball that much,” Johnson said. “I thought I had it 12-15 times. But they kept giving me the ball and it filled me up inside with a lot of energy.”
Dalton Boles of West Greene led the Tennessee rushing attack with 12 carries for 77 yards. His performance included a pair of first-down runs on the game’s final drive.
Snyder added an efficient 4-of-5 passing effort for 64 yards and two touchdowns. Wearing a blue uniform instead of the the Hilltoppers’ usual red colors, the Science Hill quarterback was pleased to go out a winner in his last game at Kermit Tipton Stadium.
“It was fun being out here,” Snyder said. “I got lucky on that first touchdown pass. I saw him run across the middle, but that’s why Harr’s an All-Star. He’s out here making plays.
“That second touchdown, he (Lavernge) called for it. The corner on his side was a lot shorter. Adrian is an athlete so I knew he would go up there and get it.”
It was much more competitive than a year ago when Tennessee rolled to a 48-7 victory, but every bit as sweet for the winning side.
“We had fun and got after people,” Jenkins said. “We just made a few more plays at the end. It was a great thing for East Tennessee, our coaching staff and players, to come out on top.”
Note: Two players — Justin Horne of Cherokee on the Tennessee side and Johnson on the Virginia side — were honored after the game with an award named for Tri-Cities Christian player Tucker Montgomery. Injured and left in a coma after a game on Sept. 2, Montgomery has since recovered to a point where he’s now at home and talking with family.