BY WAYNE PHILLIPS
SPORTS EDITOR EMERITUS
Greeneville High's Greene Devils played Friday night like they have been in this situation before.
The two-time defending Class 4A state champs dominated Gibbs along the line of scrimmage and closed down the Eagles' dangerous offense to romp to a 49-0 win at Burley Stadium in the opening round of the 2012 TSSAA playoffs.
Things will get obviously a bit more exciting next week when the Devils (8-3) hit the road to play Knox Fulton (9-2) in a second round game.
But first things first. They got that playoff opener out of the way in workmanlike fashion, something that left Coach Caine Ballard pleased.
"Very pleased," Ballard said on the field after the game. "Emotion was high before the game, and that's what I needed to see. Were we going to be hungry, and come out of the funk we've seemed to be in the last few weeks? At playoff time we've been able to do that, and I'm glad to see this team can do it, too."
The Greene Devils jumped on the Eagles with two quick first quarter scores and never looked back. They stopped Gibbs on a fourth and inches at the Eagles 37 on the game's opening possession and immediately took advantage.
Senior Tanner Stewart, who led the team to the state title last year at quarterback but has now turned into a workhorse tailback, scored his first of two touchdowns in the game on a 1-yd. plunge with 9:05 left in the first. Stewart rushed for 135 yds. on 15 attempts in the game.
"Tanner played hard, and he has to for us to be successful," Ballard said. "We were able to dominate them up front and Tanner just pounded it. Then we threw it over the top of them when they started cheating a little bit."
Gibbs went three-and-out on their second possession and Greeneville took over after the punt at their own 38, marching 62 yds. in six plays to score again. Stewart was impressive, hitting into the line on successive runs of 14, 14 and 13. Quarterback Zack Finchum scored on an 8-yd. jaunt with 5:35 left. Lincoln Taylor was perfect on the PAT, as he was on all seven he attempted on the night.
The Eagles made only one first down in the opening quarter, and that was thanks to a Devil penalty.
"Defensively we played well," Ballard noted. "To pitch a shutout again is awesome, especially against that offense."
The third Devil possession also ended in a touchdown, but it required a 71-yd. drive in 13 plays that carried into the second quarter. Four times the Devils converted on third down, with the biggest play a 29-yd. keeper by Finchum down to the 13. Tyrus Rollins got the touchdown on a 1-yd. dive to make it 21-0 after the PAT.
That would be all the scoring for the Devils in the first half. One drive was thwarted when an ill-timed snap went hurtling backwards 22-yds. behind quarterback Finchum. But Gibbs could not take advantage as their offensive efforts were limited with no threat of a passing attack.
They had the ball in great shape on one occasion after Jay Cade returned a kickoff 67-yds. to the GHS 25, and they picked up a first down to the 14, their deepest penetration of the night. But Tyler Tomlinson sacked quarterback Seth Kennard, and a 35-yd. field goal attempt by Ryan Hunley was wide left.
Greeneville took the second half kickoff and wasted no time in putting the game away. Finchum rolled right and hit Trevor Wright in stride on a 47-yd. bomb less than two minutes into the half.
After Gibbs lost possession when the punter ran for it on a fourth down after a high snap and was stopped short of a first down, the Devils took over at the Gibbs 39. Stewart rammed it up the middle for 35 yds., then walked untouched into the end zone on a 4-yd. stroll to up the count to 35-0.
That meant the "mercy rule" went into effect and the clock ran continuously.
Still, the Devils got two more scores in the final period on runs by freshman Desmond Dabbs, one of 1-yd. and one of 24-yds.
Greeneville finished with 306 yds. of offense on the night, 233 of those on the ground behind Stewart's 135 on 15 carries. Finchum had 68 rushing and was 5-of-7 for 73 in the air. Hays Culbreth caught four of those aerials while Wright had the TD catch.
Fulton finished with 115 yds. of offense, all on the ground, led by Silas Joiner with 90 yds. on 20 carries.
Now, it's on to more serious business in Knoxville next Friday. Fulton, who demolished Carter 55-0 in the first round, awaits.
"We've played Fulton the last two years in the playoffs," Ballard said. "They are much improved, especially defensively. They're a little older and more mature.
"But our guys have been here before and they know how to go on the road and win a big game. You have to win a big one on the road sometime, and it might as well be next week."
Gibbs 0 0 0 0--0
Greeneville 14 7 14 14--49
GHS - Tanner Stewart, 1-yd. run (Lincoln Taylor kick)
GHS - Zack Finchum, 7-yd. run (Taylor kick)
GHS - Tyrus Rollins, 1-yd. run (Taylor kick)
GHS - Trevor Wright, 47-yd. pass from Finchum (Taylor kick)
GHS - Stewart, 4-yd. run (Taylor kick)
GHS - Desmond Dabbs, 1-yd. run (Taylor kick)
GHS - Dabbs, 24-yd. run (Taylor kick)
First Downs 9 18
Passing (Att-Com-Int) 6-0-1 7-5-0
Yds. Passing 0 73
Yds. Rushing 115 233
Total Offense 115 306
Fumbles Lost 0 0
Penalties 9-80 5-50
Punt Avg. 2-37.0 2-31.0
Rushing: Gibbs - Silas Joiner 20-90, Jay Cade 9-26, Ty Brewton 3-11, Austin Calfee 2-5, Seth Kennard 2-(-17), Ryan Hunley 1-1. GHS - Tanner Stewart 15-135, Zack Finchum 8-68, Desmond Dabbs 4-49, Hays Culbreth 2-6, Tyrus Rollins 1-1, Xzavier Goode 1-1, Trevor Wright 1-(-5), Team 1-(-22).
Passing: Gibbs - Jay Cade 5-0-0, Seth Kennard 1-0-0, Ty Brewton 1-0-0. GHS - Zack Finchum 7-5-73-1-0.
Receiving: Gibbs - None. GHS - Hays Culbreth 4-26, Trevor Wright 1-47-1.