Many times over the past few seasons it has always been the other team that makes a big play late in the game to pull out a victory against Morristown East. But Friday night at Burke-Toney Stadium, it was the Hurricanes that made the play.
Evan Seals intercepted a pass in the end zone on the final play of the game as the ‘Canes held off Sevier County 21-18 to give first-year coach Caleb Slover his first win at East.
With 6.7 seconds on the clock, the Smoky Bears tried to go to Tyler Wilson but Seals stayed between him and the quarterback and pulled in the pick to set off a wild celebration for the Hurricanes.
East is now 1-6 with a trip to Volunteer coming up next week after ending its eight-game skid that dated back to last season. That was the most consecutive losses since the 2000-2001 teams dropped a dozen in a row.
Sevier County slipped to 2-5 on the year.
The victory was hard earned. Quarterback Cole Henson ran for two touchdowns and passed for the other with all of them coming in the first half. Henson ran for 100 yards on 18 carries and was 10 of 20 in the air for another 161.
Freshman running back Ethan Ledford tacked on 67 yards as the Hurricanes had a season-high 166 rushing yards and 333 in total offense.
Sevier County came into the game averaging 35 points per game and racked up 110 on the ground and 267 in the air. But the pick on the final play of the game was the fourth turnover by the East defense, which had a big night despite giving up that many yards.
Linebackers C. J. Livesay, Isaac Long and defensive back Trevor Malone led the ‘Canes’ as the Bears wound up with nine negative-yardage plays.
“I thought those three all had great games and played their tails off,” said a happy Slover. “In fact, I thought our entire defense really did a great job. They moved the ball some but we got after them. We had to do a good job to hold them to about half the points they’ve been putting up.”
He added, “Man it feels so great for these kids to get a win. They’ve kept their heads up all the way through the rough start and have worked really, really hard to improve.
“It was also good to see the ball bounce our way for a change after the way things have gone.”
The coach said, “Evan knew right where the ball was going. He did a great job of boxing out and going up and making a play.
“We came out in the first half and went down there and scored,” he said. “We got a good lead on them and played great on defense, except for the last time they had the ball when we didn’t get a stop a couple of times when we had a chance.”
Slover went on to say, “In the second half, we still moved the football, but this time we didn’t finish drives. Our defense was a little tired but in the fourth quarter we came back and made the plays we had to make to win the game. Man, it’s exciting to get that first win.”
The coach said the interception that started the final drive by the Bears was on him. “I know we could have run the ball and kept the clock running, but I knew if we could punch it in the game was over with. But Cole did exactly what I told him to on the play. That’s on me because I told him where I wanted him to throw and that’s what he did.”
He also said, “Their linebacker just did a good job on the play. But I don’t want people to blame Cole on that one. I’m just glad our defense rose up right there and had my back and got us out of it.”
Sevier County sophomore quarterback Collin Shannon tied the record for most passes in a game as he put the ball in the air 45 times, completing 21. Wilson was his go-to man with seven catches for 95 yards.
The Bears took the opening kickoff and set sail towards to end zone. Standout receiver Brayden Hurst, who was held to a pair of seven-yard catches, gained 15 on a reverse to start it and Shannon completed passes of 11 and 19 yards. A pass interference penalty produced another first down at the East 13.
Livesay then dumped running back Sebastian Nelson for a six-yard loss. After an incomplete pass, Livesay sacked Shannon for eight more yards.
It was Livesay again on the fourth-down play, as he belted Shannon just as he tried to throw, forcing a fumble that was picked up by the ‘Canes’ Jacob Williams and returned 59 yards to the Sevier eight.
But East couldn’t cash in. Henson gained five, but a bobbled snap resulted in a six-yard loss and Henson then had to throw the ball away under a big pass rush. Gerson Sorto was on to attempt a 26-yard field goal, but the snap was bobbled again and a pass fell incomplete.
The visitors got a first down but had to punt, and East started at its 49-yard line. On the second play, Henson fired a 41-yard pass down the sidelines to Shaffer Harville to put the ball at the 10. Henson split the yardage between two carries for the TD. Sorto booted the PAT with 3:17 left in the first.
After a 55-yard kickoff return by Nelson, Sevier moved to the East 23 before coughing up the ball again, and Williams got his second recovery for East. The teams exchanged punts before the ‘Canes went 63 yards in 7 plays to extend the lead.
Henson hit passes of 19 yards to Malone and 30 to Austin Williams before Malone took a doublew-reverse 12 yards to the four. Henson scored from the one two plays later, and Sorto made it 14-0 with 7:01 left in the half.
The Bears fumbled one more time with Daeshawn Harris pouncing on the ball at the Sevier 49. Ryan Harris grabbed passes of 4 and 19 yards on consecutive plays, and three plays later Henson fired a 20-yard TD to Braxton Dalton for a 21-0 lead at the 3:36 mark of the quarter.
Sevier converted two third downs and one fourth, covering 83 yards in 17 plays to get on the scoreboard 14.6 seconds before halftime. After taking their final time out facing third-and-goal at the eight, Nelson took a handoff up the middle to score. Giuseppe Canaca hit the PAT.
The Hurricanes threatened after the second-half kickoff, moving to a first down at the Sevier 23. But three incomplete passes and a 10-yard loss on another double reverse turned the ball over.
Nelson had a 32-yard run for a first down at the East 11 to set up a 27-yard field goal by Canaca that cut the spread to 21-10 with 6:01 left in the third.
The teams exchanged punts, and East got two first downs before a couple of penalties forced them to kick again. Sevier then breezed 73-yards in four plays. Shannon hit passes of 19 to Braxton White, Sebastian Nelson for 33 and finally to Tyrese Nelson for a 22-yard TD.
White caught a two-point conversion pass that put what proved to be the final points on the board with 8:34 to play.
East got four first downs to eat the clock down and had a third-and-four at the Bears’ 21 when linebacker Garrett Hawkins intercepted and took it back 44 yards to the Hurricanes’ 46 with 2:30 left.
Sevier got three first downs with the final one coming on a 22-yard pass to Sebastian Nelson that went to the East six. Nelson ran for one, and the visitors took their final time out with 23.5 second to go.
A pass was incomplete before a defensive holding penalty put the ball at the three, and Seals then made the game-preserving interception.