Morristown East had high expectations heading into the 2021 football season.
The ‘Canes were coming off a playoff appearance in 2020 and returned a good portion of their production from last season as they were looking to make a smooth transition from 5A to 6A.
The season started as expected for the ‘Canes as they broke out to an early lead and appeared to be off and running, on their way to a season opening win over cross-town rival Morristown West.
However, in the span of just one quarter of football, the whole season changed.
The ‘Canes gave up 21 unanswered to the Trojans, falling 31-20. From there, the ‘Canes have lost four more games as they sit at 0-5 at the midpoint of the season.
There have definitely been positives for the ‘Canes on both sides of the ball.
Defensively, East has kept themselves in games with their pass defense. The ‘Canes have allowed just 700 passing yards through five games while picking off four passes.
On Friday night against Jeff County, Trevor Malone picked off a pass that gave him the school’s career interception record. Along with Malone’s two picks on the season, Nathan Roberts and Ahmad’jai Fulton each have interceptions.
The defensive improvement throughout the season was on full display Friday as Jeff County started drives inside the East 40 two straight times in the first half but threw an interception and turned the ball over on downs.
Teams are averaging just 140 passing yards per game against the ‘Canes.
Offensively, the star has been Micah Simpson. Simpson has 31 receptions for 600 yards and five touchdowns through five games. Despite facing a double team in every game this season, Simpson has found ways to make himself useful and make plays.
Along with Simpson in the receiving core, the emergence of Skylar Hubbard has been huge for East. Hubbard had 198 yards on 13 catches and a touchdown. That touchdown came against Campbell County where he out-raced the Cougars defense for a 76-yard score.
Trevor Malone and Braxton Dalton have also caught touchdown passes for East.
Throwing to those four receivers has been junior Eli Seals. In his first year starting, Seals has thrown for 1180 yards and nine touchdowns. Seals is averaging 236 yards per game and is continuing to improve, cutting down the interceptions each time out on the field.
The running game has been absent for most of the first half of the season but finally showed signs of life on Friday against Jeff County. Ethan Ledford had 95 yards in the game on 14 carries to go along with 51 receiving yards. Ledford now has 277 yards on the season and a touchdown.
What to improve on
That’s how many rushing yards the ‘Canes have given up through five games this season. Opposing teams are averaging 201 rushing yards per game and have scored 16 times on the ground as opposed to just seven in the air.
Early in the season, Halls ran for over 270 yards on East and just two weeks ago Campbell County’s C.J. Allen ran for 300 yards by himself.
The run defense did show improvements last Friday against Jeff County, only allowing 131 yards, but will need to keep that up to give themselves a chance in the final five games of the season.
Penalties have been another issue for Morristown East as they have 49 penalties on the season for 453 yards. In comparison, opponents have committed 29 penalties for 271 yards.
Against Morristown West and Halls, East committed 26 combined penalties.
Offensively, it has been the turnovers that have been a killer for East. East has lost five fumbles on the season, but the most shocking stat is the 17 interceptions.
Against Halls and D-B, East threw five interceptions each. While the stats have gotten better, only two interceptions on Friday night against Jeff, the ‘Canes will need to continue to cut back on the turnovers and give themselves a chance.
East is also just 17-52 on third downs this season, a stat that could also be greatly improved.
While it has not been the start East has wanted, there is still time to make a late season push. Following this week’s bye week, the ‘Canes will host Science Hill and Cocke County. East will then travel to West Ridge for their first ever game against the Wolves before finishing the season out at home against Greeneville and at William Blount.
Here are the current Region 1-6A standings.
Dobyns-Bennett – 5-0, 2-0
Jefferson County – 3-2, 2-0
Science Hill – 3-2, 2-0
West Ridge – 2-2, 0-2
William Blount — 1-4, 0-2
Morristown East – 0-5, 0-2