BY WAYNE PHILLIPS
SPORTS EDITOR EMERITUS
KNOXVILLE - Greeneville High's dreams for a three-peat football state championship were dashed by the Fulton Falcons here Friday night, dropping a 42-14 decision in the second round of the TSSAA Class 4A playoffs.
The two-time defending state champs, making a bid for a fourth straight appearance in the title game in Cookeville, fell behind early after missing some opportunities, and Fulton gained some revenge by eliminating the Greene Devils after GHS did the same thing to them the past two years.
"This group of seniors did some awesome things," Coach Caine Ballard said on the field after the final horn sounded. "Nobody wants it to end tonight. There's nothing I can tell them that will ease the hurt. But I'm very, very proud of the effort of these young men. We've had some great times together, and we lost tonight to a good football team."
Fulton's talented junior quarterback Daryl Rollins ran for 256 yds. on 23 carries and scored three times, and the Falcons took advantage of five Greeneville turnovers.
"Uncharacteristic of us, that's for sure," Ballard said of the turnovers. "We had some chances early to do some things, but they made plays tonight and we didn't."
The second quarter proved to be a disaster for the Devils as Fulton scored three times, once on a fumble return, again after a punt return set up a score, and the third time after GHS lost a fumble at their own 6-yd. line.
This all transpired after a first quarter in which the defense shined for both squads.
It appeared GHS would strike first as they got something going behind the running of tailback Tanner Stewart and quarterback Zack Finchum, marching from their own 34 to the Fulton 5.
That's when Fulton's defense stiffened and on fourth and goal from the 5, the Devils tried a field goal of 22-yds. But Lincoln Taylor's kick was blocked by Shawn Sullivan, who came around end untouched and whacked the ball out of bounds.
"That sort of changed the complexion of the game," Ballard noted.
Fulton then went marching down the field, but it was the Devils turn to shine on defense. First Walker Troy, then JP Hall knocked down Rollins for no yardage inside the GHS 5-yd. line. The Falcons chose to go for it on fourth and goal from the 2, and a halfback pass by Trey Fletcher was knocked down in the end zone by Josh Tillery.
GHS managed to move the ball out of the shadows of their goal post behind the running of Stewart, but he lost the handle on the ball after a hit at the GHS 42-yd. line. Shawn Sullivan, the same Falcon that earlier blocked the field goal, scooped up the loose ball and sped 42-yds. to score. The PAT was blocked but Fulton had the lead.
The Devils stopped Fulton's next drive when Trevor Wright picked off quarterback Penny Smith at the GHS 2-yd. line. But this time GHS couldn't get out of the deep hole and Trey Clark was forced to punt from his end zone.
Dominique Williams gathered in the punt at the 32 and returned to to the GHS 12, where three plays later Xavier Hawkins barged over from the 1-yd. line. Smith passed to Hawkins for the 2-pt. conversion and a 14-0 lead with 5:12 to go in the half.
The Devils shot themselves in the foot again, losing a fumble on their first play from scrimmage with Fulton recovering at the 6-yd. line. Rollins scored on first down, and within just a matter of minutes, the Falcons had turned a 0-0 game into a 21-0 advantage.
Greeneville picked up only one first down in the second quarter, a pass from Finchum to Hays Culbreth that covered 15 yds. But that drive was halted when Finchum's long pass to the end zone was intercepted by Williams.
That 21-0 score stood up at intermission, but the Falcons wasted no time in getting on the board after taking the second half kickoff.
GHS had done well in keeping the Falcons from breaking the big play in the first half, but on first down after the kickoff, Rollins broke into the clear and raced 68 yds. for a touchdown. Again the PAT was blocked but Fulton led 27-0.
Another quick turnover by the Devils on a pass interception gave the ball right back to Fulton, and they drove for yet another score on a 3-yd. run by Jolante Castle. Smith passed to Tim Ramsey for the conversion and a 35-0 lead.
Finchum's third interception of the game set up the Falcons again. Culbreth had put GHS in good position with a nice kickoff return to midfield, but Fulton's KJ Roper picked off the pass at the Fulton 4.
Rollins then broke it completely open, breaking loose on a 94-yd. foot race to the end zone to put a cap on the victory.
The Devils scored twice in the final quarter, driving 69-yds. behind the passing of Finchum to get their first touchdown on a 5-yd. run by Stewart. Lincoln Taylor booted the PAT.
The next time they got the ball the Devils drove 74 yds. to score with Finchum completing six passes in the drive, including a 14-yd. strike to Trevor Wright for the touchdown.
The Falcons (10-2) move on to the third round, while the Devils see the year end with an 8-4 worksheet.
For the game Fulton had 368 total yards, 298 rushing. Greeneville had 263 yds. Stewart finished with 66 yds. on 18 carries while Finchum had 58 yds.
Finchum passed for 101 yds. and both Trevor Wright and Hayes Culbreth caught five passes each.