Knox Central used a balanced offense to control time of possession and took advantage of four Crockett turnovers to nab a 23-12 win over the Pioneers on Friday night in the TSSAA Class 5A quarterfinals.
The Bobcats (11-2) passed for 160 yards and rushed for another 118 in the victory. Central's defense controlled the line of scrimmage, holding Crockett to minus-2 rushing yards, and picked off Crockett quarterback Cade Larkins four times.
The loss didn't diminish the accomplishments of a record-setting season. The Pioneers (12-1) completed the first undefeated regular season in school history, recorded the school’s first two playoff victories and set a record with a dozen wins in a single season.
"These kids have done so much for our community and have represented Region 1 so well," Crockett coach Hayden Chandley said. "Unfortunately, the breaks didn't go our way tonight and we didn't make enough plays. Hats off to Knox Central, they made enough — but I love our kids to death and I hate this for them."
Larkins, a finalist for the Gatorade Class 5A player of the year, finished 14 of 37 passing for 250 yards and two touchdowns. Entering the game with 3,728 passing yards, he ended just 22 yards shy of the 4,000-yard milestone. He was disappointed with the loss, but was still able to reflect on what a special season it was for the Pioneers.
"This senior class, it was the best class to ever come through Crockett," Larkins said. "This was such an awesome season and it's a credit to all the hard work the seniors put in. They've been through so much the last four years, but this season shows what they put in."
Knox Central scored on the game's opening possession with a 30-yard touchdown pass from Dakota Fawver to Demetrien Johnson for a 7-0 lead. The Pioneers answered with a 10-play, 68-yard drive with a 19-yard touchdown play from Larkins to Prince Kollie. However, the extra point was missed and the Pioneers trailed 7-6 at the end of the first quarter.
The Bobcats scored on the opening play of the second quarter, their own 19-yard touchdown pass from Fawver to Braden Gaston. The extra point made it a 14-6 lead. Crockett's defense prevented it from being more with a pair of big stops later in the quarter, including one at the end of the half.
HARD-FOUGHT SECOND HALF
The teams traded possessions to open the second half before the Pioneers pulled within two points on a three-play drive covering 60 yards. Larkins and John Kollie connected on a 50-yard pass play to take the ball to the Central 10-yard line. Two plays later, Larkins scrambled and found Micah Robinson in the back of the end zone on a 10-yard touchdown.
Central went up another six points when Johnson took a screen pass around the left side and turned it into a 32-yard touchdown. However, an unsportsmanlike penalty pushed the Bobcats back to the 17-yard line — where they failed to convert on the two-point conversion.
After forcing Crockett to go three-and-out, the Bobcats made it a two-score lead with a 10-play drive capped by Jarred Swislosky's 21-yard field goal.
Fawver ended with 160 passing yards and three touchdowns, while the Bobcats added the ground attack for balance.
Donta Hackler was Crockett's leading receiver with four catches for 89 yards and Robinson had three catches for 85 yards. Chandley pointed out how the Bobcats successfully limited Crockett's offensive opportunities.
"I don't know the time of possession, but they kept it from us close to 30 minutes of the game," Chandley said. "Our defense was put into some bad spots in the first half, but they had some big stops and kept us in it. Our offense was able to move the ball in the fourth quarter, but they're a great football team, probably the best team we've played all year
"It ended up an 11-point game, but until they kicked the last field goal, the game could have gone either way. We just came up short, but we can't let this define us. The kids have to know they've impacted this community far more than losing a third-round region game."