NEW TAZEWELL —Trailing by 41 points midway through the third quarter against Chuckey Doak Friday night, the sprinkler system at Claiborne County High School turned on in one of end zones.
On a 45-degree night, it was a metaphor of how hot Chuckey Doak was - and how cold the Bulldogs were on both sides of the ball during a 62-16 home loss in Region 1-3A high school football action.
However, Claiborne coach Nathan Medlin said the game was a learning experience during a tough season - especially to the upperclassmen who didn’t get to play against the Black Knights.
“We sat seven starters because of grades, and the inability to show up for classes,” said Medlin, whose team dropped to 2-6 overall and 0-4 in region play. “We were shorthanded trying to prove a point. We have a standard here. You have to go to class and be good in the classroom, not just on the field.”
The undermanned and inexperienced Bulldog team that was left gave the Black Knights (5-4, 4-0) more than enough opportunities to score points in the first half.
Not even a delay of a game on the first play from scrimmage could stop Chuckey Doak. Michael Palazzo capped a 66-yard march with an 11-yard TD pass to Hayden Rush. Angelo Sobrero hammered home the PAT, and Chuckey Doak had a 7-0 lead with 9:14 remaining in the opening stanza.
After failing to get into the end zone on a fourth-and-goal at the Black Knights’ 7-yard line lead, Chuckey Doak added insult to injury two plays later.
Chuckey Doak quarterback Michael Palazzo found running room up the middle, and didn’t stop running until crossing paydirt 93 yards later to give his team a quick 14-0 advantage at the 4:18 mark of the quarter.
“(Palazzo) normally doesn’t run with the ball. He just hands it off,”Black Knights coach Ben Murphy said. “We saw something in the (Claiborne) defense, and he kept the ball.”
Claiborne County then failed to get a first down on a fake punt attempt from its own 14-yard line. One play later - Hayden Anderson one-handed a Palazzo pass to bump the lead to 21-0. Chris Cutshaw then raced 65 yards to a TD after another fourth-down stop to push the score to 28-0.
The nightmare was just beginning for the Bulldogs. For every mistake Claiborne made, Chuckey Doak took immediate advantage. A fumble recovery at the Claiborne 7 led to a new wrinkle in the Black Knights offense. Corwin Ramsey, a 255-pound senior defensive lineman, found the end zone on two power runs from the wildcat formation for a 35-0 lead.
“We got lucky with a few scores tonight,” Murphy said. “We saw some busted coverages, and we took advantage of them.”
“Those seven starters on offense we sat tonight also play on defense,” Medlin said. “We normally run triple option, but we were missing four offensive lineman.
“We had to become a shotgun passing team because we didn’t have those players.”
Haydn Hollin finally got the Bulldogs into the end zone on an 18-yard strike from Eli Stone, but an Evan Murvin run and a Rush catch as time expired allowed Chuckey Doak to race into the locker room with a commanding 49-8 halftime tally.
“We’ve been involved in a lot of close games,” Murphy said. “I’m proud of how our team held it together, especially the seniors.”
Stone finished 14-for-28 for 262 yards and two touchdown passes to lead the Bulldogs. The junior also rushed for 37 yards and had 72 yards on kickoff returns.
Hollin caught seven passes for 174 yards and a score. Jimmy Del Ervin finished with 52 yards receiving, including a 37-yard TD catch in the fourth quarter. Greg Goins found the end zone twice on two-point conversions.
Medlin hopes his disciplinary actions will wake his team up as the season comes to an end, as well as give the players who did participate some playing time.
“They had to get some experience,” said Murphy, whose Bulldogs travel to county rival Cumberland Gap to try to get their first conference win next week. “This experience will give them what they need to help them in the future when they become starters.”
Palazzo finished with four total touchdowns for the Black Knights, and Rush pulled down two TD passes. Sophomore Conner Lamons closed out the scoring with a 64-yard scoring catch.