BY WAYNE PHILLIPS
SPORTS EDITOR EMERITUS
KINGSPORT -- South Greene Coach Shawn Jones surmised last week after a tough loss to Chuckey-Doak that he felt cursed.
After another setback in heartbreaking fashion this week, Jones doesn't feel that hex has been lifted.
For the first time in many contests, South Greene was actually favored in a football game, but it didn't matter here Friday night as Tri-Cities Christian School (2-1) dominated the second half and nipped the Rebels in a 16-14 thriller.
The Eagles dressed out only 16 players here at Don "Log" Martin Field, the former home of Lynn View High School back in the 1970's, but that didn't matter as those 16 men battled and scraped their way from a 14-0 first half deficit to control the line of scrimmage in the final two quarters and walk away with an upset victory.
With starting quarterback senior Hunter Waddell sidelined in street clothes after suffering a concussion last week against Chuckey-Doak, the Rebel offense sputtered throughout the game, then the defense seemed to wilt in the second half as Tri-Cities gained the momentum behind the hard running of Evan Blankenship, who finished with 98 yds. rushing in the contest.
The South Greene defense appeared as if they would dominate the game as they scored the first points for the Rebels in the opening period, then the Rebs took advantage of a short punt in the second quarter to tack another TD on the board and things looked good for the Rebels
But the second half was all Tri-Cities as they roared back.
The initial score for South Greene came when Eagle quarterback Matt Saulsbury, the grandson of former Greeneville High School standout Buddy Saulsbury, lost the handle after being hit and the loose football squirted backward 24 yds. before Austin Hoyle emerged from a pile of white shirts in the end zone with the football for the touchdown. Austin Cedillo kicked the PAT for a 7-0 SG lead with 8:13 left in the opening stanza.
Tri-Cities gave some indication that they were not the pushovers that some in the area think they are. Showing some deceptive speed by backs Antonio Miller and Deshaune Gaines and plain, raw power by Blankenship, the Eagles moved the ball from their 29 all the way to the SG 15, mostly on the ground out of their "wing-T" set.
But South Greene safety Justin Casteel halted the threat when the sophomore intercepted a Saulsbury pass in the end zone and returned it out to the 25.
The Rebs drove out to midfield and had to punt, and Tri-Cities ran three plays and absorbed a couple of penalties and had to punt from their 18.
The punt went sideways and out of bounds at the 32, giving South Greene ideal field position.
They took advantage, scoring in seven plays and overcoming two holding penalties in the process. The touchdown came by senior Tiim Lightfoot on a 10-yd. run with 5:26 left in the half and Cedillo's PAT made it 14-0.
Neither team threatened again the remainder of the half.
But Tri-Cities answered the bell after halftime, and South Greene didn't. The Eagles drove 66-yds. in eight plays, all on the ground, and got their score on a 2-yd. run by Blankenship with 7:49 left in the third. Jonas Schenderlein booted the PAT to cut the gap to 14-7.
The Rebels, who had the ball only six plays the entire third quarter, couldn't get anything done.
The Eagles got the ball back at their 35 and headed goalward again, getting all the way to the SG 4, thanks to a 38-yd. run by Blankenship. But they shot themselves in the foot with a delay penalty, a holding penalty and then a quarterback sack.
Tri-Cities wound up settling for a 47-yd. field goal by Schenderlein. The kick had plenty of distance and the Reb lead was trimmed to 14-10.
The leg of the Tri-Cities kicker was huge because his kickoffs boomed deep into the end zone, forcing SG to start from their 20. They got to midfield on their ensuing possession and Coach Jones rolled the dice and went for it on fourth and 4.
Preston Shuffler ran hard, as usual, but came up inches short and Tri-Cities took over to move for the eventual game-winning score.
Gaines did the damage on this drive, picking up a 4th and 6 with a 33-yd. run to the 17, then breaking loose up the middle for a 13-yd. TD run with 5:20 left in the game. The PAT was wide, but the Eagles were in the lead at 16-14.
Frantic South Greene roared back. Starting at their 20, they got a couple of of nice pass completions from Justin Casteel, subbing for the injured Waddell. He threw one to Lightfoot who reversed field for 14 yds., then later tossed a screen pass to Shuffler that covered 32 yds. and almost went the distance before he was brought down at the 20.
But the Rebs could get no closer than the 13. Going for it on fourth and 3 from there, Lightfoot was smothered for a loss and the Eagles took over with 1:25 to go.
South Greene pushed the Eagles all the way back to the 2 where they had to punt, and the Rebs took over at the 35 with only 16 seconds left.
One Casteel pass was incomplete, and the next one was intercepted by Dakota McGhee near the end zone, sealing South Greene's fate.
The stat sheet was close, with the Rebs gaining 200 total yds. to 189 by Tri-Cities. Shuffler rushed for 59 yds. to lead South Greene and Lightfoot added 24. Casteel hit 8-of-15 passes for 111 yds.
Tri-Cities got 98 yds. by Blankenship and 54 by Gaines in their 163 rushing total.
South Greene (0-3) has a week off to lick their wounds as they have an open date next Friday.