BY EUAL SHELTON
Leading 10-0 after the first quarter, Greeneville exploded for 34 more points in the second period to open a commanding lead and rolled to a 60-7 victory over Cumberland Gap at Burley Stadium Friday night.
The win improves the Greene Devil record to 4-3 for the season and 3-0 in the Blue Ridge Athletic Conference with a trip to Chuckey-Doak on next week's schedule.
"Our defense came alive in the second quarter," said a pleased head coach Caine Ballard of the Greene Devils. "We got outstanding play from Tyrus Rollins (linebacker, and the only returning defensive starter from last year's 4A state championship team.)
"We had others that played extremely well. Tyler Tomlinson has had back-to-back good games for us. Trey Holditch had some big plays and Nick Wright has shown great improvement in recent weeks and he has to get better for us to get better."
Greeneville has used Tanner Stewart as a halfback at times but Friday made a full commitment to start him at that position and started Zack Finchum at quarterback. The move showed positive results from the first snap from center until the duo retired for the night.
"It wasn't an easy decision," Ballard said. "Tanner has been our quarterback while we were winning back-to-back state championships but for us to be more effective we had to fill a need at running back and he's an outstanding runner with deceptive speed, plus he's 200 pounds with outstanding balance.
"Zach had an outstanding game passing the ball even though we had two or three drops."
Finchum's numbers at quarterback was an impressive 13 of 17 for 182 yards and three touchdowns and more importantly no interceptions.
Stewart came up with 73 yards rushing on just nine attempts with a long run of 44 yards and two touchdowns, all in the opening half.
Finchum actually led GHS in rushing with 89 yards on nine attempts and scored two TD's. His longest run was a well executed 43 yarder.
Greeneville compiled 374 yards in total offense, 182 passing to go with 192 rushing.
Defensively, except for one penalty-assisted drive in the second period that accounted for 50 yards that led to the Panthers' only touchdown -- and the only time they crossed the GHS 50 yard line for the night -- it was overall GHS's best performance of the season.
Cumberland Gap, now 5-2 for the season and 3-1 in the BRAC, had scored over 50 points in three of those five wins.
However, Greeneville, except for the one drive, pitched a defensive shutout, allowing the Panthers 56 yards passing as quarterback Blake Franklin completed just 10 of 26 and the lone touchdown.GHS picked off two of his passes.
CGHS gained 38 yards rushing on 29 attempts for a combined 94 yards in total offense.
GHS was quick to strike on the first play from scrimmage after receiving a short opening kickoff starting at their own 48-yd.line.
A quick hitch pass from Finchum to wide receiver Hays Culbreth and no one from Cumberland Gap was going to catch the speedy junior before he got to the end zone and GHS had a 7-0 lead when Linclon Taylor added the extra point with just 17 seconds elapsed off the clock.
The Panthers showed some early life until GHS made adjustments after the kickoff with Tyler Tomlinson coming up with the big sack that gave the Greene Devils possession on fourth down at the 39-yd.line.
Stewart, on his initial carry from his new position, made his coaches look good, ripping off 44 yards on the run to put GHS in good position at the Panthers' 17-yd.line.
The Devils just about squandered the scoring attempt with a couple of missed assignments and had to settle for a 25-yard Linclon Taylor field goal with 2:39 remaining in the period and a 10-0 lead.
After a three and out for the Panthers at the beginning of the second, GHS started piling up the points in the second, 34 for the period, on their way to the rout.
After the CGHS punt Stewart picked up 10 yards and a first down. A Finchum to Stewart pass play netted 10 more and a Finchum to Brandon Hall completion placed the ball at the Panthers' 18-yd. line. Still throwing, Finchum came right back with another scoring strike to Culbreth for the score that increased the margin to 17-0 when Taylor added the extra point with 9:54 left in the opening half.
After the kickoff, Trey Holditch pounced on a Panther fumble at the 15-yd.line and two plays later junior halfback Quan Wilson, who later suffered an arm injury, found the end zone and 23-0 GHS lead after the kick for extra point failed.
Greeneville forced a three and out and a 48 yard punt return by Culbreath had GHS at the Panthers' 11 yard line.
Stewart covered the distance on the next snap to increase the margin to 30-0 with Taylor's kick for the extra point with 7:53 left in the opening half.
The defense, gaining confidence with each snap, came up with another big play on the Panthers' second down when senior Walker Troy came up with an interception.
Finchum hit Trevor Wright for a quick hitch six yarder.
Cumberland Gap guessed wrong on the next play, slamming Stewart, while Finchum was dashing along the sidelines for 43 yards and a touchdown that increased the margin to 37-0 with 6:27 left on Taylor's kick for the point after.
Aided by 50 yards in penalties, the Panthers scored their only touchdown of the contest, a one yard pass from quarterback Franklin to Dylan Gambrel with Devon Helton kicking the extra point. The drive started at the Panthers' 16-yd.line. CGHS netted 36 yards in the drive and the officals tacked on another 50.
GHS added one more score before the intermission break with the big play being a Finchum to Culbreth pass play of 22 yards with Stewart getting the TD from one yard out to increase the halftime margin to 44-7 with Taylor's kick.
With the "mercy-rule", in effect the entire second half, Greeneville's Caleb Ellenburg came up with an interception that set up a GHS score. Finchum got the TD from 12 yards out to increase the margin to 51-7 with 4:20 remaining in the third.
Down to playing freshman, quarterback Lincoln Bowman hit Dylan Fields in the closing minutes of the third to increase the margin to 58-7 and GHS closed out the scoring later in the fourth, nailing the Panthers in the end zone for a safety and a 60-7 count as the clock slowly wound down.